guest post: asa session organizers should accept extended abstracts

The following is a guest post by Daniel Laurison.

There are three things that bug me about the ASA conference submission system. I want to tell you briefly about each of them, and then what I’m trying to do about one of them. Over the years since I started really paying attention to ASA (sometime in 2007 or 2008, I think) I’ve asked many people over various media if they have an argument FOR any of these three elements of the system, and haven’t heard anything that convinced me, but I am entirely open to the fact that I’m missing something.

(TL;DR = I’m going to accept extended abstracts at my session on elites at ASA 2020; I hope other session organizers will do the same; if you’re on board, go to

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intersectionality as a public idea

In a forthcoming ASR paper, Tim Hallett, Orla Stapleton, and Michael Sauder introduce the concept of public ideas. Hallett et al are interested in that subset of ideas that are produced by social scientists and enter into mainstream public discourse. They define public ideas as those with the following properties:

mediators use them as an object of interest (being the news), (b) mediators use them as an interpretant (making sense of the news), and (c) the ideas are used as objects and interpretants in a variety of ways as part of an unfolding career.

In the paper, Hallett et al focus on seven public ideas ranging from “bowling alone” to the “second shift”, tracing the citations to each idea in 12 mainstream newspapers for the 10 years after its initial publication. They categorize the seven ideas studied into a few main clusters based on the trajectory of the number of citations and the trajectory of the share of citations that treat the public idea as an object of interest or an interpretive tool. For example, “culture of fear” is a “coaster” (meaning a relatively steady flow of cites) and is “interpretant heavy” (meaning it’s mostly used as a tool for interpreting other events, rather than a focus of the news story itself – journalists were not writing stories about the culture of fear, but using it to make sense of, say, reactions to terrorist attacks). Hallet et al offer several observations and propositions about the sources and trajectories of public ideas (noting that their sample came from elite institutions, often in books published by crossover/trade presses, etc.), without proposing a full-fledged theory.

Over on Twitter, Beth Popp Berman wondered what their analysis would have looked like if they’d extended their timeframe beyond 2011 and in particular if they’d included intersectionality. Beth pointed to a recent write-up of intersectionality from Vox, pointing to its ubiquity as both a rallying cry on the left and a target of demonization on the right (a great example of an article citing the concept as an object of interest, in Hallett et al’s terms). In this post, I’ll try to see what we can learn by thinking about intersectionality as a public idea.

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reply: ethnographers are not lawyers, and nobody ever said they should be

The following is a guest post by Steve Lubet.

There is a story often told in the Cook County Criminal Courts Building about a young defense lawyer who was determined to do everything possible for a burglary defendant. After meticulous research, exhaustive investigation, and conscientious preparation, the attorney presented an airtight alibi, showing virtually minute-by-minute, and through multiple witnesses, that the client could not possibly have been at the scene of the crime. There was only one thing standing in the way of an acquittal. The elaborate alibi had been established for the wrong day, and counsel’s painstaking effort was all for naught. As with most such mythic accounts, this tale is probably apocryphal, or at least broadly exaggerated, but it still serves a valid teaching purpose. Even the most carefully developed argument will fail if it is based on a faulty premise.

So it is with Prof. Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur’s recent response to my own essay on ethnography in Contexts. It would be a powerful riposte if only it had addressed my actual views. My essay is about comparative means assessing reliability – using multiple real life examples from law, history, and journalism – but you would never know that from reading Arthur’s piece. Her rejoinder of over 1500 words quotes only a single four-word passage from my work. Everything else is ill-premised spin. As I will explain below, there is nothing easier than presenting an alibi for the wrong day, nor simpler than refuting the imagined arguments of a straw person.

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the distribution of student loan debt

Sometimes it’s hard to find basic descriptive statistics. Even when data exist that could provide the relevant descriptives, it still takes work to analyze them. Social scientists don’t have much incentive to produce high quality descriptive statistics, except as incidental by-products of our typical, more complicated statistical analyses (usually aimed at teasing out causation or explanations). And yet, sometimes, all you (or, in this case, a friend) wants to know is, something seemingly straightforward like: What’s the relationship between income and having student loan debt? How much do people owe in student loans given their incomes?

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ethnographers are not lawyers, ethnographies are not trials: standards of evidence, hearsay and the making of good analogies

The following is a guest post by Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur

In the Winter 2019 issue of Contexts, legal scholar Steven Lubet analogizes ethnography to legal fact-finding. Lubet is not an ethnographer or a social scientist—he is a law professor with scholarly expertise in evidence and in legal history. Legal scholars do have a habit of weighing in on fields not their own, but then we sociologists can play that game.

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remembering devah pager: the mark of a mentor

Last November, sociologist Devah Pager passed away. At the Eastern Sociological Society meetings this past weekend, a group of her former students, colleagues, and mentors came together to celebrate her life and her work. These comments, by Michelle Phelps, were delivered as part of the event, which was organized by Jessica Simes, and also featured Robert Hauser and Bruce Western as speakers and Monica Bell as moderator.

We encourage you to contribute your own reflections in the comments.

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towards an economic sociology of race

Economic sociology and the sociology of race have very little contact. In a new working paper, Laura Garbes and I document this pattern, and then offer suggestions for how economic sociology could incorporate insights from the sociology of race:

Towards an Economic Sociology of Race

Race is central to economic life, but race is not central to economic sociology. We argue that economic sociologists should not treat race as a feature of (some) individuals, but rather treat racism as a constitutive, structuring force, analytically co-equal with capitalism, patriarchy, and nationalism. We document how canonical and award-winning works of economic sociology do not discuss race and racism, and do not engage with the contemporary sociology of race. We introduce six key insights from the sociology of race and suggest how they could influence economic sociology: the emergence of race out of racism, an understanding of racism as structural, the role of whiteness, the intersections between racism and other systems of oppression, the ideology of colorblind racism, and the fundamental connections between racism and capitalism. These insights point to the potential for developing a “racialized economies” and “racialized markets” approach that unites insights from both subfields.

This paper was inspired in part by a line of similar papers examining how other subfields, like social movements, political sociology, and organizations, could benefit from engaging deeply with race and racism (as discussed in a post here). We think economic sociology is ripe for the same treatment. This is the first public draft of the paper and we’d very much appreciate your comments!