making sense of for-profit colleges: a mini-syllabus


At the Eastern Sociological Society Annual Meetings this past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a fantastic Author-Meets-Critics session for Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed. Lower Ed is a great book, but it’s not a complete analysis of the sector. In writing up my comments, and in the discussion during the session, I tried to think of what you would need to bring together to get that fuller picture. Here’s my brief recommended list, and how I would use them together in say a unit of a sociology of education or higher education course.

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sunday morning sociology, elite politics edition

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In the NYT, Thomas Edsall discusses recent work in political science and economics on the politics of the economic elite.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

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there is no psychohistory, and there never will be


The following guest post by Ijlal Naqvi is part of a series on sociology and science fiction.

Psychohistory is the mathematical social science from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series which can be used to predict important societal developments at the population level. My colleagues writing in this blog series have used Foundation as an illustrative example of structural functionalism for a sociological theory course and likened psychohistory to quantitative sociology. Elsewhere, Paul Krugman described it as an inspiration to his younger self. It is a series which is familiar to more than just the geekier social scientists – there are clearly plenty of us! – after winning the only Best All-Time Series Hugo award and selling many millions of copies. For good measure, the series was packed into the boot of the Tesla roadster recently launched into space.


As recounted in Asimov’s Foundation, psychohistory can be used to generate probabalistic predictions of future events, works with mobs and large populations rather than individuals, can only handle a limited number of independent variables, works best when freedom of action is heavily constrained, and only works when its findings are kept secret. In the opening of the book, Hari Seldon – the founder of psychohistory – tests the new hire to his research institute by having him calculate (in his head) the probability of the galactic empire’s demise within 300 years. The collapse of the empire will lead to 30 millennia of chaos, but Seldon wants to reduce that interregnum to 1000 years by judiciously guiding the rise of a new empire through the use of psychohistory. I argue against the possibility of psychohistory by drawing on concepts of emergence and meaning making, while also questioning the normative basis of such a social science and its usage.

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about spousal hires

I’ve talked to a lot of people over the years about how to handle the “two body” problem where your spouse needs a job, too, and your goal is to live in the same house as your spouse.

I can explain what I know about the “rules of the game” regarding spousal hires, and also give my advice about the personal work you need to do to be ready for this. The spousal hiring process usually creates severe stresses on a relationship and I believe it is important to know your priorities or you are at risk of being chewed up. The post is long and has 3 sections: (1) About timing of the discussions; (2) Institutional rules, explaining that these vary from not helping spouses at all at one extreme to providing jobs for spouses at the other, with most falling somewhere in the middle; and (3) The need for spouses to talk honestly with each other (but not necessarily outsiders) about their priorities.  Continue reading “about spousal hires”

teaching alternative futures with “the centenal cycle”


The following guest post by Rick Searle is part of a series on sociology and science fiction.

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” – Ursula Le Guin

The idea that part of the role of an advanced education is for the student to be able to escape the stranglehold of assumptions passed on by whatever particular society she happens to be born into can be traced at least as far back as Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”

At the heart of all the human sciences that have avoided being seduced by the false certainty of quantitative models (here’s looking at you, economics) lies the recognition that the multitude of societies, cultures, systems of economy, and governance in which human beings live are all historically contingent, the product of some particular population of people being shaped over time by their complex interactions with the world and with one another.

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sunday morning sociology, the gender of economics edition

The Economist discusses and visualizes new research on how men and women economists hold different opinions about policy and especially about the role of government, and the imperfections of markets.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

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When Republicans Opposed the Free Speech of David Duke