stiglitz on inequality: have economics, sociology, and political science converged?

The newest issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Politics and Social Science is out and the theme is inequality, especially intergenerational mobility. Several pieces caught my eye, including a short reflection on Ken Prewitt highlighting how little we know about the influence of social science on policymaking (including the institutionalized production of data, about which I have written a little). Prewitt is much more optimistic than many scholars about the potential for scientific research, and even social science, to influence policymaking in the present moment.

Also in the issue is a talk given by Joseph Stiglitz on inequality in the United States. Stiglitz has been writing about inequality on and off for his entire career. This talk struck me for two reasons: first, for how much it highlights the rise of top incomes as the hallmark of increased inequality and second, for how Stiglitz (and by moderate extension, some subset of mainstream economists) sounds a lot like mainstream sociology and political science in his diagnosis of inequality.

Continue reading “stiglitz on inequality: have economics, sociology, and political science converged?”

best of 2014 sociology blogging

Each year, the political scientists at Duck of Minerva give out awards for the best international relations blogging of the year. Sociology at present has no such organized structure. I’m not sure we need more awards (though I suppose we could always ask the 52 ASA sections to create a “best blog post” award!), but the process does have a useful by-product: it creates a curated list of great posts and new blogs for each year. Below, I’ve compiled my own list of favorites. I wish I’d started keeping track earlier in the year, as I’m sure I’ve forgotten as many good posts as I remembered. But the real hope of this post is that you readers will leave comments with your favorite posts from 2014, and together we can build a comprehensive list! My list is shamelessly subjective, as any list of favorites must be, and focused on topics I’ve been following this year.

Continue reading “best of 2014 sociology blogging”

2015 junior theorists symposium – call for abstracts

I’m happy to post the Call for Abstracts for the 2015 Junior Theorists Symposium. JTS is a one day mini-conference held before ASA each year. Bloggers are well represented in this year’s program – Scatterplot’s own Andrew Perrin will be part of the after panel on “Abstraction,” alongside Kieran Healy.
Continue reading “2015 junior theorists symposium – call for abstracts”

ello is now a public benefit corporation

As part of our continuing discussion over the ethics of Facebook’s emotional manipulation study, Philip Cohen advanced the idea that we should simply declare FB a public utility and regulate it as such:

But Facebook is too big, and they own irreplaceable archives of hundreds of millions of people’s stuff. I figure just nationalize it or regulate it as a public utility – call it critical infrastructure. Then let private companies out-innovate boring Facebook.gov if they want to and win people away.

This notion struck me as a bit extreme, but provocative in just the right way. What kind of a service is a massive social network and in whose interests should it be run? We need better answers to that question.

Enter Ello.co. Continue reading “ello is now a public benefit corporation”

symposium on the genetics of race in sociological theory

The most recent issue of Sociological Theory contains a four part symposium on the genetics of race. More specifically, three of the pieces are responses to a 2012 article in ST by Shiao et al., The Genomic Challenge to the Social Construction of Race, and the last is a reply by Shiao. The debate is an important one for both sociology and the broader public. Every advance in biology and genetics seems to trigger a new round of scientists, and social scientists, trying to justify widely-held beliefs about race in essentialist terms. Shiao et al. offer a new, sophisticated argument in a very long tradition.

Fortunately, sociology – especially sociology informed by the science studies (STS) tradition – is well-equipped to engage with the guts of the genetics underlying Shiao et al’s claims. Continue reading “symposium on the genetics of race in sociological theory”

performance management, threshold effects, and asa sections

Every year, the end of September brings a peculiar class of emails from American Sociology Association section chairs and membership committees. ASA sections (e.g. “Economic Sociology,” “Sex and Gender,” etc.) organize much of the activity at the annual meetings. Each section is awarded a certain number of sessions based on the size of its membership on September 30th. If you have 399 members, you get 2 sessions; if you have 400 members, you get 3, and so on. As you would expect, sections routinely scramble in September to try to exceed the next threshold. The form of this scrambling includes offers to subsidize graduate student members (who pay a much smaller amount in dues, but “count” the same towards the session thresholds), book raffles, and even drawings to win coffee with senior scholars. After receiving another such email, I got curious about the effectiveness of these strategies. ASA conveniently posts membership data back to 2009 on its website, and so it’s easy to plop that data into R and produce a quick histogram of year-end membership counts for 2009-2013.*

HistogramofASASections

As expected, we see sharp jumps around major cutoff points: 300, 400, 600, and 800. We see similar trends when looking at publicly traded firms’ earnings data vs. analyst forecasts, or when looking at the size of courses offered by universities trying to game their USNWR ranking (see Espeland and Sauder’s work). So, it seems like all the emails are working – at least, working for the sections trying to get their numbers just above the threshold. Whether or not this particular system is collectively rational I will leave for you all to judge.**

* Thanks to the @ASANews twitter account for the links!
** One clunky but effective solution would be to transition from a pure threshold system to one that awards the final session to each section probabilistically based on how far past the previous threshold it went, with each member being worth about half a percent of a section.