asa: a lobbying organization?

I just got the new issue of Footnotes. It fit in well with my attempt to look busy but avoid doing my immediate work. Two pieces were what I would consider “lobbying” or “position-taking” on the part of the organization (excluding a South African Scholar from the US and a letter of protest to the ASA Israel Boycott resolution). And I began to wonder what the implications of this kind of position-taking is for our discipline. My intuition is that it weakens our position both in public policy arenas and in the academy more generally. But rather than make arguments about it, I wonder if anyone has actually looked into this. Anyone out there know of some kind of work done on this questions (it doesn’t have to be about sociology, just organizations in general).

But now to my own uninformed mind. Thinking about the ASA I can’t help but wonder about PAA by contrast. As far as I can tell, PAA takes the approach that it is an information clearinghouse. Want to know something about demographic trends? Ask PAA. They’ll tell you (or tell you about someone who can tell you about it). ASA’s approach, by contrast, is to generate policy statements. Often on issues that no one has asked about. Continue reading “asa: a lobbying organization?”

built on others’ backs?

So I went to an “untenured faculty” meeting at Columbia recently. Rather foolishly I expected the meeting to be about the plight of the assistant professor. You know, struggles, stress, fighting for more respect, how do deal with feelings of insecurity, etc. That was exactly what it was about, except that with the exception of me and another sociologist friend, the meeting was almost completely filled with adjuncts. I never really knew how much of the teaching at Universities happened by folks who are treated, well, to put it bluntly, very poorly. And by all reports, things are getting worse.

As I left the meeting, instead of feeling a sense of solidarity with my fellow junior faculty members, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I walked in thinking that I would be surrounded by my people* – those who could REALLY understand how bad I had it. And I left feeling like a jerk, because compared to the adjunct folks, I had it great. Continue reading “built on others’ backs?”

it’s 9:15pm, and…

I’m about to go to bed. I moved to NYC thinking it would change my life. That things would be exciting. That I would finally get away from Madison, where the few things I did were eat out and go to movies.

Now I live in NY. And I eat out. Movies are no longer a part of my life. So I guess it’s been a net loss! Funny how I fooled myself.

Oh, and no one told me life as an assistant prof would be so much harder than life as a grad student. I’m not complaining. Life so far is actually better. But it’s more work. I wish I’d known.

my first post

In this, my first post, let me say two controversial things.

1.) An open note to sociologists: Dear Sociologists (particularly my fellow ethnographers) – Please stop writing the same book. The year was 1943, and with “Cornerville” we learn that downtrodden communities were not normless. They had social organization like everyone else. In many ways they were just like you and me Thank you Mr. Whyte. But now we get it. Why do we keep packing our bags for a trip we are never going to take? Do we really need another book telling us that the ghetto is socially organized like other social spaces? That poor people are just like you and me (only poor)?

2.) I now teach at a fancy school. And I’ve gotta say, there is a downside to having a very competitive admissions process (we accepted around 8-9% last year). And that downside is this: our students are boring. Or least mine are. They’ve all “bought in”. They are very hard working. They are very good at telling me what I’ve told them. This is all very nice. But they’re not interested in much other than what I want them to tell me on evaluations. I don’t want to say that they’re just a group of people who have “sold out” for a steep career trajectory. But they are. Yeah yeah, it’s not their fault. They’re just working within the structure of rewards set-up for them. And they all have to work like crazy to get in (even the privileged ones). Getting good grades, running the school paper, spoon feeding sick kittens.But the perverse effect of all this “total candidate” requirement is that students don’t develop interests, they learn to meet requirements. So I can’t really blame them for doing what they had to to get in. But there’s something sad about it.

Maybe competition breeds efficiency. I’m sure they’ll all be great at their jobs. They certainly are better students than I ever was. But I’ve never felt so like a meat grinder in my life: creating a uniform mass. So I say, away with competition! Or perhaps I am beginning to support Karabel’s idea that some percentage of each class should be made up of a randomly selected group of people who simply have to meet a minimum requirement (assuming that if you meet this requirement, you can perform reasonably well in the school – and given that we give out 50% A’s, anyone can do reasonably well!).