levels of racism: individual, organizational, institutional, and systemic

Discussions of racism tend to get tangled up in issues of level of analysis.1 Sociologists (e.g. Bonilla-Silva) and critical race theorists (e.g. Haney-López), among others, have long argued that we need to understand racism as something that works “beyond” or “above” the individual, building on arguments that go back to Stokely Carmichael’s distinction between individual and institutional racism. In talking through these ideas with friends and students, I’ve found that the terminology can be confusing – in part because sociologists (and non-sociologists) have used terms like institution and structure to mean so many different, overlapping things. In this post, I outline my idiosyncratic terminology for characterizing different levels of racism when trying to explain these interwoven concepts. For me, it’s been useful to break down racism into four levels that are at least partially nested: individual, organizational, institutional, and systemic.2

Continue reading “levels of racism: individual, organizational, institutional, and systemic”

anti-racist research practices and the value of teach-ins

The following is a guest post by Nabila Islam.

On Friday, June 12, 2020, fourteen[1] sociology graduate students at Brown University held a teach-in on how to support BLM in academia at the Population Studies Training Center (PSTC), an interdisciplinary center for the study of population issues. The teach-in evolved from the invitation that sociology graduate students (with support of staff and faculty) had extended in the department’s statement in support of BLM. The letter had urged members of the sociology community to have conversations with and beyond each other on how to combat anti-black racism and to produce anti-racist research. Susan Short, sociologist and Director of PSTC, asked graduate students if they wanted to hold an event or a meeting at the center as a follow-up. The students decided on holding a teach-in on race and racism in the academy. In the tradition of teach-ins and public sociology, the event mixed theoretical discussions with conversations about praxis and centered the coming together of the PSTC community to discuss recent political events and possible futures. During the second part of the teach-in, the attendees were invited to participate in facilitated breakout sessions to brainstorm anti-racist practices in research, as well as in institutional and interpersonal situations within the academy. The suggestions below are the result of those collaborative conversations. Recently there have been discussions on how professors in all disciplines can talk to students about race and racism. Teach-ins potentially provide a way to challenge status and generational divides between students, staff and faculty on campus while offering opportunities to rearticulate the meaning of community and to create anti-racist publics within the academy.

Continue reading “anti-racist research practices and the value of teach-ins”

an invitation to abolition for the curious sociologist

gabe-pierce-SgXWBOLUNAk-unsplashThe following is a guest post by Mo Torres. 

Abolition is in the public eye like never before. In five years, we’ve gone from “require body cameras and implicit bias training” to “defund the police.” Longtime abolitionist Mariame Kaba is in the New York Times: “Yes, we mean literally abolish the police.”

As a discipline that has had much to say about racism, policing, and incarceration, where do sociologists fit into this new picture, where abolition is not simply a fringe position, but one front-and-center in current debates?

Continue reading “an invitation to abolition for the curious sociologist”

dismantling the minneapolis police department

Over the past 4 years, I’ve studied community perceptions of the Minneapolis Police Department. With a team of students, we conducted qualitative interviews with over 100 residents and 20 leaders of police reform/transformation/abolition groups; tracked reform efforts by the MPD; and attended city council hearings, vigils, and community listening sessions. We learned that many in Minneapolis agreed that racialized police violence was a dire social problem, but disagreed on its solution (and whether policing could ever be reformed). Some citizens and groups fought for reform through bureaucratic channels, while others pushed for police abolition or transformation.

As readers are well aware, these questions about reform vs. abolition recently became a national conversation. Following the murder of George Floyd by four now-former MPD officers on May 25, 2020, and the explosion of protests locally (and nationally and internationally), many have looked to Minneapolis to see how this conversation might produce real change.

Continue reading “dismantling the minneapolis police department”

should i write an op-ed?

photo of person reading
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

In times of political turmoil, we often wish that there were more sociological perspectives in the popular media. This is especially true when issues of power and inequality are involved. One of the best ways for sociologists to make our voices heard is to write something ourselves, but writing for the public is different than writing for other scholars. How do you know if your contribution will be valuable? What makes a great op-ed? And how do you get it into the right hands? In this blog post, I detail my own process for deciding when and how to write for the popular media.

Continue reading “should i write an op-ed?”

sociologists against systemic racism and anti-black police violence

Today, the graduate students of the Brown Sociology department, with support from faculty and staff, put out a statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the ongoing protests against police violence. The text of the statement is reproduced below; the full statement including signatures is available here. This statement joins those from the American Sociological Association, Sociologists for Women in Society, and other sociology departments including Temple University, UCSD (in the comments below), University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, and Wake Forest University. Please post links to any other statements by sociology associations or departments that you come across in the comments below, and I’ll add them to this list.

Continue reading “sociologists against systemic racism and anti-black police violence”

somber thoughts about possible futures: solidarity or exclusion?

The following is a guest post by José Itzigsohn.

The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the lives of people worldwide. It has certainly increased the level of risk we are all exposed to. Ulrich Beck and others have described our times in terms of a risk society, and the pandemics seem to confirm this view. Of course, exposure  to risk has always been unequal. The marginalized sectors of the world economy have always been exposed to high levels of risk (from illnesses, to violence, to exclusion), while the economic elites and the middle classes have been able to protect themselves and to some extent shelter themselves from risk. And exposure to the coronavirus, access to health care, and the risk of losing one’s life are highly correlated to class and to race in our racialized class system. But the pandemic has increased the risk for all, mounting the risks of people who already live precarious lives, but also putting at higher risk the lives and livelihoods of people who usually enjoy some mechanisms of protection from the “conventional” risks we were used to living with. It is hard to think of a previous crisis that has affected all parts of the world at the same time and in such a radical way (at least within the memory of most living people).

Continue reading “somber thoughts about possible futures: solidarity or exclusion?”

testing amid turmoil

The following is a guest post by Zach Griffen.

A specter is haunting the U.S. education system—the specter of not being able to carry out the routine administration of standardized tests. While written achievement tests were considered controversial in U.S. schools throughout the 19th century, by the mid-20th century it became acceptable to measure the “merit” of individuals via instruments such as IQ tests. Nowhere was this more true than in the higher education system, where competition between institutions led to shifting definitions of merit and to assertions about the role standardized testing should play in a meritocracy. Today, in the middle of a public health crisis that makes such testing difficult (if not impossible), both critics and advocates of standardized testing are raising new questions about teaching and the measurement of learning in the U.S. What role will academics—and teachers, students, university administrators, and others—play in this process?

Continue reading “testing amid turmoil”

towards a sociology of trolleys: luft on moral cognition

How Michael Schur's The Good Place tackles moral philosophy with a ...
From The Good Place, s2e05, “The Trolley Problem.”

The trolley problem is a classic thought experiment in moral philosophy. A quick version is: should you pull a switch to change the tracks of a moving trolley to hit only one person when it’s currently on a set of tracks that will lead it to hit five?

Continue reading “towards a sociology of trolleys: luft on moral cognition”

adjusting expectations for empathy and equity in the wake of COVID-19

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, college and university instructors have been asked to keep teaching. Faced with that mandate, some instructors have to tried to stick as closely as possible to “business as usual”—transitioning to online instruction but otherwise keeping their expectations for students the same. That could mean required, on-time attendance, maybe even with checks on active engagement. It could mean keeping all the original assignments and deadlines in place, and maybe even adding new modules and assignments. It could mean online exams held during the normally scheduled times, maybe even with identity verification, browser controls, and live proctoring to keep students from cheating.

Now, I understand that those “business as usual” expectations might give some instructors the sense of normalcy they need to keep teaching in the face of so much uncertainty. At the same time, though, and as I argued in a recent webinar for Indiana University’s Office of Diversity and inclusion, those “business as usual” expectations are no longer equitable—if they ever were at all.

If our students signed up to take in-person classes this semester, then we can’t expect that they’ll be able to seamlessly make the switch online. We can’t expect that students will have consistent access to internet or to a personal laptop or tablet they can rely on to make Zoom calls, download video, take exams, or do assignments online. We can’t expect that students will have a safe place to live, enough food to eat, a distraction-free environment where they can study, or enough time to show up for classes. And we can’t expect that the students who need help will feel comfortable enough to ask.

Given the challenges students are facing, many instructors—myself included—have abandoned “business as usual” and radically shifted their expectations for students. That decision, however, is likely to be easier for tenured faculty—myself included—than it is for grad student instructors, adjunct faculty, lecturers, and tenure-track junior faculty. That decision is also likely to be easier for instructors from more privileged groups—myself included—than it is for instructors from systematically marginalized groups.

If you’re an instructor with a more tenuous status, lowering expectations in the wake of the coronavirus might feel risky. You might worry about being judged—by advisors and colleagues, by hiring committees, award committees, and tenure committees, or even by your own students. You might worry about how those judgments will affect your course evaluations or your chances of getting hired, promoted, tenured, or picked for a teaching award.

My goal in this post is to give you language you can use to justify choosing equity and empathy over “business as usual” in the wake of COVID-19. First, I’ll offer a few general suggestions for instructors on adjusting expectations and avoiding further harm. Second, I’ll share the message I sent my undergraduate students explaining how I would be adjusting my expectations for the remainder of the semester. Finally, I’ll share a template you can use in teaching statements for job applications, tenure dossiers, or other materials to explain how you’ve adjusted your own courses during this challenging time.

Continue reading “adjusting expectations for empathy and equity in the wake of COVID-19”

rector, actor, other (oh and also…modernity)

The following is a guest post by Isaac Ariail Reed and sketches the framework from his new book, “Power in Modernity: Agency Relations and the Creative Destruction of the King’s Two Bodies.”

A recurrent feature of game-theoretical economics, political science and sociology is the principal-agent problem. Many phenomena in the social world can be described in terms of the (various) theories of principals and agents. Want to understand how Southwest Airlines broke into the industry? Why presidents do not exit losing wars? Why it was an advantage for Kennedy in his standoff with Khrushchev to have a “rogue” general who favored nuclear war? Why corruption is not only a collective action problem? Principal-agent theory is here to help! A principal sends an agent to do a task, under some kind of contract or agreement, establishing a relationship subject to certain constraints, and open to certain possibilities. If we can describe these constraints and possibilities, we can explain a lot.  Does agent know more than principal? Does principal have the capacity to punish agent, reward agent, or both? And so on.

Continue reading “rector, actor, other (oh and also…modernity)”

2008 & the sociology job market

It looks like we’re in another “economic downturn,” and many PhDs are understandably worried about what it means for the future of the sociology job market. I haven’t been to Delphi or stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, but I am knee-deep in historical ASA reports. Here’s what the data look like for how the 2008 recession affected the sociology job market in the US. Spoiler: I don’t think the market ever recovered, and more hopeful estimates say it took 4 years to recover.

Continue reading “2008 & the sociology job market”

social and economic aspects of the coronavirus pandemic

It’s hard to even begin blogging about something so vast and ever-shifting. This post is just going to be a short pointer to a couple of the best pieces I’ve seen covering the social and economic angles of the pandemic.

Continue reading “social and economic aspects of the coronavirus pandemic”

doing things with bags-of-words

The following is a guest post by Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra.

Topic models are fast emerging as a workhorse of computational social science. Since their introduction in the late 1990s as part of a larger family of classification and indexing algorithms, they have grown into one of the most common and convenient means for automated text analysis. Not too long ago, using topic methods confronted scholars unfamiliar with programming with steep learning curves: even the simplest implementations required some familiarity with coding in addition to a good deal of patience. Today, by contrast, topic modeling is available as part of point-and-click desktop applications (e.g. Context) and can be installed in widely used statistical analysis packages (e.g. Stata). The relative ease, scalability, and intelligibility of topic models explains, perhaps, their quick adoption across sociology, political science, and the digital humanities. Indeed, to say that topic models are the OLS of text analysis wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration.

Continue reading “doing things with bags-of-words”