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.
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 quantitativesociology. 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.
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”
“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.
It is September 1996, California’s Proposition 209, banning gender or race preferences in college admissions, is on the ballot for November. Students at Cal State Northridge organized a debate between former Klansman and ongoing White racist David Duke and Civil Rights activist Joe Hicks on the topic of affirmative action. According to a story in the New York Times Newswire (1996-09-25 EMOTIONS RAGE ON CAMPUS PRIOR TO DAVID DUKE AFFIRMATIVE ACTION),
members of the California State University, Northridge chapter of the College Republicans threatened to initiate a recall drive against student body President Vladimir Cerna unless he resigns by next week. Accusing Cerna of misconduct for his role in bringing Duke to campus, College Republicans President Rod Perry said his group had collected more than the roughly 2,500 signatures needed to launch a recall vote by students.” and “Some of the harshest criticism of Duke’s appearance has come from supporters of Proposition 209, the Nov. 5 California ballot initiative that would end racial and gender preferences in state and local government. Backers of the measure contend that Duke was invited to oppose affirmative action at today’s debate as a ploy to discredit the initiative through association with his extremist views. Duke, a former Louisiana state legislator who just lost his second bid for the U.S. Senate on Saturday, has disavowed his past ties to the Ku Klux Klan but continues to espouse racial separatism and white supremacy.
There was also a court case:
“Meanwhile, a judge Tuesday rejected a second bid to block the Associated Students at CSUN from paying Duke for his appearance. Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin said there is insufficient evidence to support student Kelly S. Novak’s claim that public money is being illegally spent to help oppose Proposition 209.”
Notice. In 1996, the College Republicans thought it was an unfair attack on their opposition to affirmative action to associate it with a known White racist! There is so much to unpack in this. It is OK to advocate a policy that will have the impact of reducing Black and Hispanic access to college, but they think it is unfair to imply this has anything to do with overt White racism.
What about minorities? The news story says that the minority student organizations on the campus supported the invitation to Duke.
While some object to Duke’s appearance because they see it as an affront to minorities, women and gays, leaders of many minority groups on campus, including the Black Student Union, have strongly supported Cerna’s plans to include Duke in the debate. They were quick to rally to Cerna’s defense. “We voted you in for a reason. Stick with what you’re doing and don’t be bullied,” declared Harold Caldwell, president of the American Indian Student Association.
Not all minority activists agreed. The anti-Duke protesters came in from out of town.
Shortly before Tuesday’s Student Senate meeting, about eight members of the Bay Area group called the Coalition to Defense Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), held a news conference vowing to try to block Duke’s appearance. The Northern California activists said the debate was a misguided event that would give Duke a platform to espouse his views. They were confronted by angry CSUN students who branded them as uninvited interlopers. “This is Cal State Northridge,” said Marlon Barbarin, 24, a sophomore political science major. “It’s pretty much up to the students here whether we want to have (Duke) or not.”
A Google search reveals that this conflict received extensive coverage in Los Angeles area newspapers, although much of the coverage framed it in the expected way as minority protesters vs. David Duke, rather than noticing the ironic and unexpected elements of the story. Minority students were inviting David Duke to call attention to the White supremacist implications of opposition to affirmative action. White students who supported a measure that would benefit Whites at the expense of minorities were opposing the invitation and actively sought to block the appearance because they saw the association with White supremacy as unfair to them. Many minority activists saw the minority students’ ploy as misguided, believing that giving Duke a forum would just strengthen the forces of White supremacy, not delegitimatize them.