how should we measure the racial wealth gap? relative vs. absolute gaps in the student debt forgiveness debate

The following is a guest post by Louise Seamster.

The 2020 Democratic presidential race has taken up the issue of the racial wealth gap, and several candidates have come up with proposals to address the gap with some amount of student debt forgiveness. The racial wealth gap is a way to operationalize the notion of racial justice: the wealth gap gives us something to measure and assess in search of genuine progress. But, like many assessments of racial progress, the wealth gap must be carefully conceptualized.

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asa podcast party to replace social media soiree!

For many years now, bloggers, tweeters, and other digitally-minded social sociology types have gathered at the American Sociology Association’s annual meeting. This year, scatterplot will not be organizing our own event but we are happy to announce the following event organized by the podcasting team at The Annex, and which we hope will serve as a suitable replacement.

ASA Friends of the Podcast Party!

Mark your calendars and spread the word! Friends of The Annex Sociology Podcast will be having drinks at ASA 2019 on Monday night. If you’ve interacted with us online over the past couple years, please come by and say “hi” and meet some of the great guests who have been on our show.

If you know nothing of the podcast, check us out on your favorite podcast platform: The Annex Sociology Podcast. Or visit


DATE: Monday, August 12 at 7:30PM

PLACE: Peter Dillon’s at 2 East 36th Street, New York

NOTE: There are two Peter Dillon’s. Make sure you go to the East 36th Street location

Additional note: Interested in podcasting? Do you run your own podcast? Thinking of starting one? Please write!

protecting students or enabling trolls? why faculty evaluations should not be totally anonymous

The following is a guest post by Robin Fowler.

I want to start by noting that I unequivocally appreciate the value of student feedback. In addition to the University-coordinated teaching evaluations, I regularly collect input from students regarding my pedagogical choices. Most of the feedback I get through both my own and the university’s evaluation systems is useful and gives me ideas for improving my courses and my teaching. Often, it is very constructive or even heartwarming.

However, the true anonymity of the student evaluations opens the door to trolling and other absolutely inappropriate communication to instructors; students say things via open-ended feedback that they would never say face-to-face or if they thought their comments could later be attributed to them (by anyone). There is a strong literature on communication medium, and total anonymity in particular, allowing for a total disregard of the impact of your words on your addressee. This leads to a few very inappropriate comments, which disproportionately affect under-represented groups but which are terrible for all of us. As our institutions work to create a more inclusive environment for students and faculty, it’s appropriate they consider the raced and gendered comments given a platform in this anonymous channel.   

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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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