tally’s corner, then and now

The New Deal Carry-out shop is on a corner in downtown Washingon, D.C. It would be within walking distance of the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, and other major public buildings over the nation’s capital, if anyone cared to walk there, but no one ever does. Across the street from the Carry-out is a liquor store. The other two corners of the intersection are occupied by a dry cleaning and shoe repair store and a wholesale plumbing supplies showroom and warehouse.

So begins Elliot Liebow’s famous description of Tally’s Corner. Now — thanks to Liebow’s wife — we now know from where he wrote that description: 11th and M Streets in NW. This was revealed by Washington Post reporter and columnist John Kelly this week. The column includes a brief bio of Liebow and as well as a short description of the book and its importance.

This book is a standard in any class on urban sociology, and likely any methods class on ethnography. There are lessons embedded in just the introductory chapter that are still useful today. He sought to study black men in poverty because so much had been written about poor women and children because “[a]t the purely practical level, the lower-class Negro man is neglected from a research point of view simply because he is more difficult to reach than women, youths, and children” (p. 3). He looked to describe the everyday lives of his informants as “fathers, husbands, lovers, breadwinners,” which simultaneously highlighted their individual worth (and, sometimes, shortcomings) while showing how their lives were structured by the lack of opportunities available to them. This book, more than almost any other, exemplifies what can be learned by setting out to deeply describe the context in which people live their everyday lives.

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hitting close to home from 925 miles away

As I watch the protests from Madison (and get updates from our very own ontheground correspondent), I am amazed at the resolution and determination of the protestors. In no small part because watching what is happening in Madison affects good friends dearly and gives the rest of us pause to think about what kind of country we want to live in.

With deference to President Obama, this isn’t an “assault on unions;” this is an assault on the fundamental idea of equality in our country.

Unions are the medium through which equality is accomplished, not the end in themselves. I don’t support unions because they are unions; I support unions because they are one of the few institutions in this country that create a playing field that is anything close to level. This protest hits particularly close to home for me. I include among my friends members, leaders, and staff at TAA, as well as their sister union from UW-Milwaukee the MGAA. There are not two more capable and energetic locals.

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not sure she gets it

“I’m the least racist of anyone. Some of my greatest friends are black.”

That is what Tennessee state rep Terri Lynn Weaver said after news broke that she posted a picture of her Halloween costume on Facebook: her in black face with the caption “Aunt Jemima, you is so sweet.” Not sure what definition of racist she is using, but I’m pretty sure that under any definition I am familiar with she would not rank near the bottom. Who is to blame for this brouhaha? You guessed it, the Democrats!

dancing with them who brung you

I think that Jeremy is right: if you feel like working at McDonald’s is better than graduate school, then you should leave.  And it is offensive to people who hear graduate students and professors whining about our lives. Beyond just the offense, I think that we do ourselves a great disservice by continuing the meme of irrelevance.

In the meme of auto-voice-generated movies about becoming an academic the repeated theme is that we write obscure articles in obscure journals that no one reads. In other words, our lives and our work is worthless. Why, then, are we surprised when Tom Coburn threatens to cut funding to the NSF or, as Brayden points out on that other blog,* states look to make professors “accountable” and threaten to cut funding to public institutions that don’t meet those metrics. I mean, seriously, if we give the impression that our research doesn’t matter, why should taxpayers believe that it is?

This is something that has constantly irked me since I started graduate school. I attended a state institution for graduate school from a state that was hurting before the latest economic crisis; now it is close to being devastated. All but one year I was in graduate school, my salary was funded (or subsidized) by either the taxpayers of the state or federal taxpayers through teaching salary, fellowships, and federally-funded research assistantships. When I heard people complain about the need to explain why their research is important to people outside of academia or that non-academics could “never understand” their work, this really got under my skin. While I understand that my research, which tends to lean towards understanding the role and potential benefits of public policy, is conducive towards this stance, I am still shocked by the sense that people feel offended that they have to explain the value of their work to the people who help pay their salary. Like Chris Uggen, I believe that it is important that we “make ourselves useful” regardless if we are in public or private institutions (though, arguably, especially if we are in public ones).

If we don’t start explaining the value of our work to others, then state legislators will start doing it for us. I guarantee you that we will all regret not explaining the value of our work if we leave it to those legislators with an axe to grind to explain what we are worth.

*Since Brayden highlighted the Texas legislature in his post, quoting the famous progressive Texas political commentator Molly Ivins seemed apropos.

the internet ate my reference letter

I am currently on the job market, which I am sure everyone is aware is a trying process. There is no need to go into the depths of what the process does to one’s mental health, not to mention the mental health of loved ones around the candidate. However, given how trying this process already is, I get really frustrated when pieces of it are needlessly frustrating. And, it seems, almost all of these revolve around technology, which was supposed to make things easier last time I checked.

To begin with, there is the problem that our professional association has a website that was designed with everyone except the end-user in mind. Add to that, said association won’t post positions offered by non-member departments (unless they pay the exorbitant fee). Then, if a department is an institutional member of the association, then departments can only leave postings up for a specified period of time. For some postings, the maximum period allowed ends before the date the date that departments will start reviewing applications!.

To be fair, the ASA is not the only organization that cannot handle the internets. Many schools started using online application systems, likely imposed by their administrations who are sold software products by companies who tell them how great this will make their search process, streamline and centralize everything, and how many admins they can lay off to save money. Top-level administrators and accountants, understandably, like this idea. Yet, the end result is that there now at least five different flavors of applications: mail everything, e-mail everything, load everything onto a central job clearinghouse, upload documents for an individual department, and upload everything except recommendation letters. I am applying to a lot of positions this year because let’s face it, this is the first of three years where there approximates anything like a healthy market. This means that there are three years worth of candidates all vying for one year’s worth of jobs. Not only do I need to ask my letter-writers to write me letters for the dozens of jobs that I am applying for, I have to give them detailed instructions on how to deliver said letters, which varies by school and, even within the same school, by department. Now, I have a very good relationship with my advisors; however, it is quite possible after this experience, I will not.

My biggest frustration, however, is the fact that the software companies who sold the COO and HR departments at various institutions on their software must never have tested it in a situation in which people actually apply for jobs. Every letter-writer is, I assume, sent a unique URL from which to upload their letter. This makes perfect sense, the unique URL makes the matching between the reference and the application instantaneous and not prone to typos, etc. But here’s the rub: if a letter-writer happened to lose that e-mail, or her/his e-mail client filtered it to the junk folder, or they got confused (because when asked for a letter, some of the software programs don’t tell you which job you are writing a letter for! no, I’m not kidding), I have no way of resending that unique URL to my letter-writer when a letter has not arrived!

I would guess that these kinks get worked out in the next five years or so; but, in the meantime it is extremely frustrating. In part, it is because figuring these things out is what I imagine should be a central focus of an organization like ASA. If there were a common, well-designed application for departments to post positions, candidates to apply, and administrative assistants and search chairs to manage the search, it would be a net benefit to everyone. In it’s place this hodgepodge of systems drains everyone’s time and mental resources, which makes an already stressful situation more stressful than it has to be.

I apologize for the rant.  Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go apply for some more jobs…

a fail too big to prosecute

It seems that Wal-Mart’s lawyers are not arguing that they should be immune from lawsuits for the now-mundane reason that they are “too big to fail” but that they made a fail too big to prosecute (h/t newser). In the continuing saga of its epic gender-discrimination suit, the corporation is asking the Supreme Court to block a ruling by the Ninth Circuit that the female employees of Wal-Mart comprise a class. In a brief filed on behalf of Wal-Mart, one lawyer argues:

The class is larger than the active-duty personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard combined – making it the largest employment class action in history by several orders of magnitude.

In other words, “Dear Supreme Court: We discriminated against soooooo many women that it is going to be really hard to deal with this case. We’ll tell you what: in exchange for you forgetting about this case, we will make sure that you don’t have to deal with all of its complications. Sound good? Great! Love, Wal-Mart P.S. Although ‘too-big-to-fail’ is kind of ho-hum these days, we would like to try that too.”

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