the hunting ground and the university as organization

The Hunting Ground is a new documentary about the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. It’s also a story of the birth of a new social movement targeting universities using innovative legal tactics alongside traditional organizing and protests. And in a gut-wrenching way, it’s a story about universities as organizations, and the dark side of the organizational imperative for self-protection and survival. In addition to being important for faculty to see in their roles as advisors, teachers, and participants in university governance, I think the film will also make an excellent teaching tool in a range of sociology classes on anything from sex and gender, to social movements, sociology of law, crime and deviance, and especially organizations. In theaters now!

And please use the comments as a place to discuss your thoughts on the film.

Edit: Comments are now closed.

sociology should look to political science, not economics

Sociologists, online and off, spend a lot of time comparing our discipline to economics and debating how it is they managed to become so prominent. The unstated goal, of course, is to make sociology itself more important. In terms of contemporary tactics for that disciplinary project, I wonder if we shouldn’t be looking to political science instead.

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what are we measuring when we measure behavior? elementary school edition

Organizations (and/or authority figures within organizations) are frequently called on to make consequential decisions about individuals. These decisions range from who to admit to a selective undergraduate institution or graduate program to which mortgage applications to accept to which prisoners should be paroled. The organizations and individuals have at their disposal varying kinds of information, which are perceived as being differently valuable in making those decisions. For example, in undergraduate admissions, we may know a student’s GPA, their SAT score, their class rank, the extracurriculars they participated in, and so on. Some schools may value SAT highly, others GPA, etc. In the past few decades, there has been a decided turn towards looking at behavioral information as particularly valuable across a variety of fields, including finance (the turn to behavioral credit scoring, which relies primarily on variables like past defaults and late payments) and criminal justice.
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piketty on piketty: it’s not just r > g

Thomas Piketty has just published an interesting follow-up to his epic Capital in the 21st Century (a book important enough to already have its own wikipedia page). Perhaps the most surprising claim he makes is that commentators have put too much emphasis on the role of “r > g” in his analysis of the dynamics of inequality:

… the way in which I perceive the relationship between r > g and wealth inequality is often not well-captured in the discussion that has surrounded my book…

I do not view r > g as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century, or for forecasting the path of income and wealth inequality in the 21st century.

For an example of that overemphasis, see this delightful Colbert Report t-shirt:

r g t

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the normative aspects of positive thinking

I love economics papers with “optimal” in the title. When I was first starting out in sociology, I planned to study immigration, remittances, and development. For a literature review I was working on, I spent some time reading about the economics of migration. I came across a gem titled Optimal Migration: A World Perspective. The first line of the abstract struck me as a brilliant example of “the normative aspects of positive thinking” – the way that economics sometimes emphasizes the normative conclusions of seemingly positive models. Here it is:

We ask what level of migration would maximize world welfare.

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7th annual fiscal sociology grad student workshop

For the past six years, Isaac Martin, Monica Prasad, and Ajay Mehrotra have worked tirelessly to promote interest in “fiscal sociology” (the historical and sociological study of public finances, especially taxes). In addition to producing a great reader and publishing fantastic books on various aspects of the topic, they have also organized a one-day workshop each year for graduate students interested in fiscal sociology. As usual, the workshop will be held the day before SSHA (this year in Baltimore on November 11th), with a slightly different cast of instructors. Below is the full call for participants and details. Note that participation is (partially) funded, so it’s a great way for graduate students to get an introduction to SSHA.

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lizardo, “the end of theorists”

Omar Lizardo just posted his Lewis Coser award lecture “The End of Theorists: The Relevance, Opportunities, and Pitfalls of Theorizing in Sociology Today” as a delightful pdf pamphlet. Omar argues that theory today suffers from several structural problems, including the lack of a well-functioning hierarchy of modes of doing theory, the deinstitutionalization of “theorist” as a position in the field (as more and more programs now assign theory courses to specialists in other, empirical fields who only dabble in theory), and a lack of new, high quality theory to import from France and Germany. The solution for theory’s woes, Omar argues, has two parts:

The first is a move towards institutionalizing a new set of “positions” for the increasingly uprooted theory people floating around in the field. I will propose one model for such a position based on the role that philosophers play in the disciplinary collective known as cognitive science. Here the theorist is a generalist that is both familiar with the nitty-gritty empirical problems of the different fields and who uses a selective, generalist strategy to provide conceptual solutions to those problems.

The other productive pathway that I see opening up (and here I have been inspired by the recent work of Richard Swedberg) is a revival of interest in the notion of theorizing as a process and as an acquired skill. My recommendation will be that we should begin to move away from our obsession with theory as a finished product or as canon of works and towards a conception of theorizing as a creative activity.

The whole thing is short and witty, and highly recommended if you’re interested in the state of sociological theory today.