earnestly explaining the right

I heard Ken Stern on Morning Joe this morning, discussing his new book, Republican Like MeThis is not a carefully thought out response, but a quick thought and a question:

First, the title, which is an obvious paean to Griffin’s classic Black Like Me, serves at once to show the author’s earnestness and to imply that Republican-ness is like Black-ness: assumed to be unchanging, inborn, and genuine.

Second, the question. This is but the latest in probably at least a half-dozen books seeking earnestly to explain (often in crudely anthropological terms) the virtues of the right to liberals. Stern, in particular, references social division and “bubbles” as problems the book is intended to ameliorate. Are there any examples of the converse genre (books earnestly explaining the virtues of the left to conservatives)? If not, why not? And if not, doesn’t the apparent demand for this genre actually imply that the social division is uneven, with one side more interested in transcending the division than the other is?

newfield, the great mistake

Christopher Newfield’s The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them is a great book – you should buy it, read it, teach it, and recommend it to your friends. In an increasingly crowded field of books about the ills of contemporary higher education (many of which I also like), this one is particularly strong for its insistence on a systemic, political-economic analysis and its refusal to offer overly simplistic answers. In what follows I offer a discussion of the book’s argument and successes along with two critiques of elements that I think weaken its claims.

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the downside of fact checking

The below is an excerpt from my book that seemed relevant to the current moment. It’s presaged by this post from 2012.

Fact-checking during campaigns helps make sure the truth is communicated–but also teaches voters that there is a “right answer” and trains them to listen for true vs. false instead of right vs. wrong.

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morris, the scholar denied

I read Aldon Morris’s much-anticipated book, The Scholar Denied, with great interest. I heard Morris talk about the book when he visited UNC last year, and have read and taught some shorter work he’s published from this project. I was not disappointed – it’s a great book, meticulously documented, passionately argued, and sure to correct many important parts of the historical record on the development of American sociology. I learned quite a bit about W. E. B. du Bois’s life and intellectual productivity. Separating the book’s argument into three related claims, I find the first two fully demonstrated. However, I remain unsure of the third, most ambitious, case the book tries to defend.

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ask a scatterbrain: managing workflow.

As I have admitted before, I am a terrible electronic file-keeper. If I was to count up the minutes I have wasted in the last 15 years searching for files that should have been easy to find or typing and retyping Stata code that would have (and should have) been a simple do-file or doing web searches for things that I read that I thought I wanted to include in lectures or powerpoints or articles but couldn’t place, I fear I would discover many months of my life wasted as a result of my organizational ineptitude.

For a long while, these bad habits only affected me (and the occasional collaborator). It was my wasted time and effort. Now, though, expectations are changing and this type of disorganization can make or break a career. I think about my dissertation data and related files, strewn about floppy disks and disparate folders, and I feel both shame and fear. Continue reading “ask a scatterbrain: managing workflow.”

arum and roksa, “aspiring adults adrift”

I am a fan of Richard Arum and Jospia Roksa’s first book, Academically Adrift, which examined predictors of growth in critical thinking skills during the first two years of college. In their new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift, Arum and Roksa follow the same cohort of students into the first couple of years after graduation.

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korteweg and yurdakul, the headscarf debates

The Headscarf Debates: Conflicts of National Belonging,by Anna C. Korteweg and Gökçe Yurdakul, is a detailed and thoughtful work of comparative cultural sociology. It focuses on four debates in Europe about the wearing of headscarves (in all four cases, actually niqabs, misrepresented as burkas, as the book nicely explains). Using extensive analysis of media and legal discourse, it shows similarities but, more interestingly, differences among the debates in France, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Germany. These differences highlight persistent cultural differences in the relationship between state, citizens, and religion: differences the book describes as “conflicts of national belonging.”

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coding, language, biernacki redux

Dylan Riley’s Contemporary Sociology review (paywall, sorry) of Biernacki’s Reinventing Evidence is out, and an odd review it is. H/T to Dan for noting it and sending it along. The essence of the review: Biernacki is right even though his evidence and argument are wrong. This controversy, along with a nearly diametrically opposed one on topic modeling (continued here) suggest to me that cultural sociology desperately needs a theory of language if we’re going to keep using texts as windows into culture (which, of course, we are). Topic modeling’s approach to language is intentionally atheoretical; Biernacki’s is disingenuously so.

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american democracy

Perrin-AmericanDemocracy-2My new book on American Democracy is out (hooray!). I tried to write it as an accessible argument for understanding democracy as essentially a social and cultural achievement: the back-and-forth interactions among citizens and institutions of government, structured through rules, ideas, and technologies that foster the formation of publics. Below the break are a few points and ideas from the book – not so much a summary as some provocative claims to consider. I don’t consider these claims as proven or demonstrated, just interesting and hopefully generative.

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biernacki, “reinventing evidence”

OrgTheory’s current book forum is on Richard Biernacki‘s Reinventing Evidence in Social Inquiry. I provide my views here to contribute to the discussion.

Biernacki attempts a wholesale indictment of the practice of “coding” texts as a social scientific technique. Through careful attempts to replicate three studies, Biernacki seeks to show that the attempt to bridge interpretive and analytical sociology by sampling and categorizing bits of text is “unfeasible.” Essentially, I believe he hopes to demonstrate a kind of methodological “non-overlapping magisteria” claim: that interpretive approaches are sui generis and uniquely capable of successfully comprehending textual and cultural evidence, and analytical techniques are epistemologically bankrupt. He does so by a cherished if underused scientific technique: replication, in this case of three important works in cultural sociology. The works are Bearman and Stovel’s “Becoming a Nazi: A Model for Narrative Networks” (Poetics, March 2000); John Evans’s 2001 book, Playing God? , on which Biernacki has already commented extensively and very similarly; and Wendy Griswold’s 1987 “The Fabrication of Meaning”.

I say “I believe” that is the point of the book, because unlike his prior book (The Fabrication of Labor, a magnificent historical study demonstrating the independent effect of national culture on early modern economic organization in England and Germany) the argument in Reinventing is hidden behind a smokescreen of arrogant posturing, making it difficult to evaluate the underlying idea and its defense.

In short, while there are some apt points in the book, in general it is pompous in style, muddled in evidence, vastly overstated in scope, mean-spirited in approach, and epistemologically indefensible.

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kloppenberg, reading obama

This is the next in the series of posts on what I read this summer. A friend had given me a copy of James T. Kloppenberg‘s Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition a while ago, but I hadn’t cracked it till this summer. It’s an engaging, sophisticated account of Obama’s intellectual pedigree and the political and academic sensibilities he carried into national politics. Continue reading “kloppenberg, reading obama”

butler, parting ways: jewishness and the critique of zionism

This is another in a series of notes on things I read this summer. Toward the end of the summer I read Judith Butler‘s Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (Columbia UP, 2012). Then, as I was preparing to write these thoughts about it, I ran across the Jerusalem Post’s attack on Butler’s receipt of the Adorno Prize and Butler’s response to that attack. So my post will start with my thoughts on the book, then circle around to discuss the controversy over the Prize.

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wedeen, peripheral visions

This summer I read Lisa Wedeen’s 2008 book, Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen (University of Chicago Press). I’d read her earlier book on Syria, Ambiguities of Domination, as well as her APSR article on adapting sociological approaches to culture to the study of political science. Both of these were worthwhile: the book, if nothing else, as a non-European case illustrating Vaclav Havel’s case about saturated symbols, the article as a consideration about how to apply culture to the study of politics. Peripheral Visions far exceeds these. It’s an extraordinary book in many ways, and its innovations far exceed the boundaries of its case.

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the 2012 asa blog party: covered in awesomesauce

Please join us at the annual ASA blog party:

Saturday, August 18, 2012
8-10pm
Harry’s Bar in the lobby of the Magnolia hotel
818 17th street between Stout and Champa Streets (just 2.5 blocks from the convention center)

This year, Jenn Lena and Gina Neff have graciously invited us to join their party to celebrate the publication of their brilliant books:

Banding Together Venture Labor

Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music by Jennifer C. Lena

Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries by Gina Neff

There are even rumors of appetizers being provided for this fabulous event, and drink specials abound. I look forward to celebrating these great books, seeing old friends and meeting newer blog readers. I hope to see you all there.