response from tomaskovic-devey

I’m at PAA, where the dues are cheaper and conference registration comes with a free drink ticket.

Don Tomaskovic-Devey, former secretary/treasurer of ASA, wrote a response to my post complaining about the Footnotes article on the dues increase. It was a long, thoughtful response and so deserves to be linked from a post. I thought it also deserved a serious response, even though I want to get back to the conference and will do so now. (I ignored his “ploy to soak the rich” comment at the end since I presume he actually understands that was never my contention.) My response below: Continue reading “response from tomaskovic-devey”

ask a scatterbrain: mentoring

A question about mentoring, sent to me:

I’m a new assistant professor at the end of my 2nd year at a R1 university. Research is fine. Teaching is fine. But I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to manage research assistants. I suspect that the first thing you will tell me is this: “It’s really important to communicate your expectations clearly.” And I know that, on some level, this is true. But (and tell me if I’m wrong about this) the main quality of a good RA is that a good RA exceeds your expectations. Great RAs do the grunt work without complaining, they don’t need to be monitored constantly, they turn tasks into opportunities, and you clearly see them transitioning from student to colleague. Can I legitimately set this as my low bar? Continue reading “ask a scatterbrain: mentoring”

going after email

Wisconsin Historian Bill Cronon’s NYT piece criticizing Wisconsin Republicans for their “radical break” got a lot of play earlier this week. Behind that piece was a March 15 scholarly blog post sketching the recent history of the Republican Party and the key role of the American Legislative Exchange Council in planning strategy. (The blog post is “required reading” on US politics if you have not seen it already.)

Yesterday, March 17 [edited to correct time order of events], the Republican party filed an Open Records request with University legal counsel asking for “Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon’s state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.”  Read his extensive blog post for details about the problem with this.

The Republicans have suffered a number of hits lately from the content of Scott Walker’s email, so it is at one level not surprising that they are trying to turn tables. But the target is an academic analysis of recent US political history by a political moderate that led to a well-regarded editorial, not a “to the barricades” political call.  Academics who work at public institutions take note. This fight is escalating.

proposed asa dues increase

Anybody else notice that ASA Council’s proposal for updating the income brackets for ASA membership implies a hefty dues increase?

Keep in mind that Council cannot approve a dues increase larger than cost-of-living without membership approval. Note that the main increase in progressivity is differentiating the $70K+ category. The ASA footnotes article provides this long, essentially irrelevant paean to progressive taxation, because, we’re all for that, right? But even someone at the bottom of the previous highest category ($70K) is now being asked to pay 11% more.

Seriously: the major economic function of this dues change is not to shift the cost of running ASA from its lower-income members to higher-income members. It’s to increase the overall dues revenue to ASA. This is a significant dues increase that is trying to sell itself by using the left politics of the ASA membership to treat us as an easy mark.

Remember: You can vote no. And, if it passes, you are under not obliged to report your income to ASA.

UPDATE: It’s actually worse than I thought. I thought at least student dues were going to be decreased, but no. The only decrease is for sociologists in the new “Unemployed” category and non-students who make less than $20K. Student memberships stay the same. Everybody else goes up; most by a percentage in the double digits. The write-up about this proposal in Footnotes is, in my view, misleading. The main purpose of this change, not mentioned at all in the Footnotes article, is to attain what looks like a 10-20% increase in total ASA revenue from dues.

libya, the deficit, and morality in politics

I know I am defecting from my usual comrades here, but I find myself pretty sympathetic to American involvement in Libya in this situation. It’s hard to argue that a dictator may threaten and carry out mass murder without consequences, and it’s hard to argue that the major military power in the world need not sully its hands with such things. Add to this the fact that past American policy has helped develop regimes like this (and the others falling in the region), and I think the United States bears a moral responsibility/obligation to shield protestors from overwhelming force. I do think, though that Obama should take this as an opportunity to make a couple of moves, none of which seems to be happening:

1.) Establish the use of moral obligation as a standard of political decision making. The division of labor has become: foreign policy (particularly military) and “social issues” (e.g., abortion and same-sex marriage) are defended on moral grounds while social policy has to bear a very different standard having to do with efficiency and budgetary wisdom. I would like to see Obama say: “we were morally obligated to help the Libyan people, and we did. We are similarly morally obligated to provide access to health care at home, and we will do so. When faced with a moral crisis in Libya we did not stop to check on the cost, nor did we let our budget deficit stand in the way of moral action. Let’s have the discussion on moral grounds: is it OK to deny health care to people who can’t pay? Is the deficit more important than food on families’ tables? The truth is that the United States cannot meet its moral obligations with the unreasonably low tax rate we currently have. We need to raise taxes to a sensible level in order to fulfill our obligations at home and abroad and avoid leaving greater fiscal problems to our children.”

2.) Establish a foreign policy standard based on principles of real democracy and human rights. The last time this was even tried was under Carter, and it quickly collapsed. But the Libyan action will be particularly effective if Obama can articulate to the world that the United States will pay any price, bear any burden, in the service of true democratic autonomy and respect for human rights around the world. And then perhaps we won’t leave around messes (Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban) from prior adventures that come back to bite Americans and the rest of the world.

the return of the nrc rankings

The much-maligned NRC graduate program rankings dropped quickly from many radar screens. However I was part of a committee that produced a detailed, very critical report for the ASA Council, which is receiving a bit of press. I do think it was important to note the dramatic deficiencies of the rankings, even though UNC basically did fine, if for no other reasons than to avoid bad reactivity effects.

npr and federal funding

By now it’s common knowledge that Ron Schiller, NPR’s already-lame-duck fundraising executive, was punk’d by serial liar James O’Keefe. The scuffle over Schiller’s inconvenient truth-telling about the Tea Party notwithstanding, Schiller’s off-the-cuff comment that NPR would be “better off” without federal funding is interesting. Although this puts me in the “wrong” camp, I’m inclined to agree. Federal funding muddies the waters, since the federal government is one of the key institutions being covered by NPR. Furthermore, it forces NPR into contortions as waves of new legislators see an opportunity to score points. I agree the transition would be very difficult, and perhaps a compromise is to “zero out” NPR after a several-year transition process. But ultimately I think NPR would be better off without (direct) federal funding. Of course as a deficit-reduction measure it’s idiotic since the amount of money we’re talking about is roundoff error, but that’s not a reason to deprive the loony new right of a talking point.


After insisting for three weeks that smashing public worker unions is a necessary “budget repair” measure, the Wisconsin Republicans went into Executive Session this evening to delete the fiscal parts of the “budget repair bill” (which lack a Constitutional quorum without the absent Democratic Senators) and voted to pass the non-fiscal parts, including most collective bargaining rights for public workers. Reports are that a thousand people converged on the Capitol and that protesters inside the Capitol opened the doors to let in other protesters and the police could not stop them. The Capitol is now re-occupied and Facebook is full of calls to people to head to the Capitol, although the twitter stream seems to say that Madison teachers are being advised to go to work tomorrow. The Assembly is scheduled to vote at 8am tomorrow. Twitter feed seems to say that the Assembly hall has been occupied by protesters. Part of the rush appears to be that the legislature plans to recess for a month beginning tomorrow.

ask a scatterbrain: recent theory books

All right folks, it’s spring break which means it’s also time for me to think about what books to order for fall. On the docket this time around: a revamped introduction to sociology and graduate theory. For graduate theory, I’m looking for recommendations for recent (last 2-3 years) important theory books linked to current practice in sociology.  In past years I’ve taught Collins’ Interaction Ritual Chains; Latour’s Reassembling the Social; Jaspers’ Getting Your Way. I’m considering Collins again, maybe Elster, maybe Hedstrom, maybe Swedberg’s edited book on economic sociology and STS. Thoughts, opinions, ideas, all welcome!



FYI I posted an essay over on my own blog that contrasts the pro-protest ethos at my church (reflecting on it) and a meeting about teaching Black youth not to talk to police. There is sociological reflection on communities of discourse and repression, but it is a reflection, not an academic essay. It seems too long and too personal for this forum, so I thought I’d let you know it is there if it is the sort of thing that interests you.

teaching deviance by doing nothing

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

Want to teach your students about norms, deviance, and the social construction of reality in a way that they’ll never forget? Try Doing Nothing, literally. Have your students silently stand in a public place for 15 minutes with absolutely no expression on their face. If anyone approaches them they are to reply to any and all questions by saying, “I am doing nothing.”

Continue reading “teaching deviance by doing nothing”

tally’s corner, then and now

The New Deal Carry-out shop is on a corner in downtown Washingon, D.C. It would be within walking distance of the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, and other major public buildings over the nation’s capital, if anyone cared to walk there, but no one ever does. Across the street from the Carry-out is a liquor store. The other two corners of the intersection are occupied by a dry cleaning and shoe repair store and a wholesale plumbing supplies showroom and warehouse.

So begins Elliot Liebow’s famous description of Tally’s Corner. Now — thanks to Liebow’s wife — we now know from where he wrote that description: 11th and M Streets in NW. This was revealed by Washington Post reporter and columnist John Kelly this week. The column includes a brief bio of Liebow and as well as a short description of the book and its importance.

This book is a standard in any class on urban sociology, and likely any methods class on ethnography. There are lessons embedded in just the introductory chapter that are still useful today. He sought to study black men in poverty because so much had been written about poor women and children because “[a]t the purely practical level, the lower-class Negro man is neglected from a research point of view simply because he is more difficult to reach than women, youths, and children” (p. 3). He looked to describe the everyday lives of his informants as “fathers, husbands, lovers, breadwinners,” which simultaneously highlighted their individual worth (and, sometimes, shortcomings) while showing how their lives were structured by the lack of opportunities available to them. This book, more than almost any other, exemplifies what can be learned by setting out to deeply describe the context in which people live their everyday lives.

Continue reading “tally’s corner, then and now”

madison: now what?

Preview: I wrote this chronologically. At the bottom I give extensive discussion to an incident in which a Republican was surrounded by an angry crowd, an event that is likely to get circulated in some arenas.

Quite a day. Despite a court injunction issued this morning that the Capitol should be open, the Capitol stayed in lockdown all day today. Wisconsin’s Capitol building is normally open to the public. The Constitution says that legislators cannot bar citizens from the Capitol, and another law requires that the Capitol be open to the public when the State Supreme Court is in session, which it is now. Walker’s Dept of Administration challenged the injunction and argued that they were in compliance because a small number of protesters were allowed inside and assembly members could escort 8 people at a time to and from their offices. A court hearing on the matter began at 2:30 this afternoon and was still going on when Walker delivered his budget speech at 4.

As I have tried to convey, and you should be able to see from many first-hand accounts by participants and reporters, the mood of the protest before the Capitol was locked was largely celebratory and well-ordered. This account a Huffington Post is one outsider’s experience of several days inside the Capitol. There are dozens like it to be found. Continue reading “madison: now what?”