what does it mean to say an algorithm is racist?

Yesterday, tipped off by Beth Berman, I posted a screenshot of a pair of Google search results onto Twitter. The screenshot (below the cut) shows what happened when you searched for “professional hairstyles for work” and “unprofessional hairstyles for work”. I labeled the screenshot “This is what a racist algorithm looks like.” (BoingBoing picked up the story around the same time, and seems to have traced back the idea for it to the original source.)

Continue reading “what does it mean to say an algorithm is racist?”

graduate student associations

Although it has had a teaching assistant’s union since the 1970s, my department has just formed a Sociology Graduate Students Association in the past two years. They are interested in learning about the structure and functions of graduate student associations at other programs.Is there a sociology graduate student association on your campus? What does it do? How is it structured?

Our students would also like to identify graduate students at other institutions who could tell them about the how the graduate student association works in your department. I think this is especially so if you believe it works well. If you would be a good contact or can suggest one, drop a comment and I’ll email you for more information. I can see your email address if you comment.

don’t blame the fha for the rise of the suburbs

One of the most important trends in the post-WWII US was the rise of the suburbs. The creation of the suburbs involved a transformation of economic and political life, as well as a new era of racial segregation. Historians have long laid the blame for the emergence of the suburbs on the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), arguing that the FHA favored new single-family houses in the suburbs over multi-family rental properties in cities, and that the FHA discriminated against minority homebuyers. A new article by Judge Glock, a history PhD student at Rutgers, argues that this condemnation of the FHA is entirely misplaced. In How the Federal Housing Administration Tried to Save America’s Cities, 1934–1960, Glock argues that the FHA: “was more likely to be involved in (1) multifamily and rental housing than single-family homes, (2) urban housing than suburban, and (3) to provide relative equality to white and minority borrowers, after significant political prodding.” (2016: 292) What did historians miss?

Continue reading “don’t blame the fha for the rise of the suburbs”

a chance to interact with randy collins about interaction

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 1.30.20 PMAnnette Lareau asked me to pass along the information and an invitation to the entire sociology community to join in celebrating the career and contributions of Randy Collins. The event has a great line up of speakers including Michèle Lamont, Elijah Anderson, Viviana Zelizer, Philippe Bourgois, Alice Goffman, among many, many more. The event is free with limited first-come first-serve housing opportunities for doctoral students. Check out the event and sign up on the website.

the stories we tell.

I read two seemingly unrelated professionalization pieces last week:  The Chonicle‘s “Operation Keep My Job” and IHE‘s “Advice from an Outlaw Writer.” The two couldn’t be more different from one another. Bethany Albertson discusses a number of the insights anyone seeking professionalization will hear time and again (e.g., “just say no,” “ask for help,” “keep trying”) and Jane Ward encourages us to work against common refrains -“don’t chip! binge!”

However, they shared an important wisdom – although articulated differently – urging caution in how we connect with those around us. Continue reading “the stories we tell.”

CFP: Workshop on Historicizing “The Economy”

On September 23-24, Adam Leeds, Onur Ozgode, and I are organizing a workshop at Harvard on historical understandings of “The Economy.” This workshop aims to bring together scholars working on the emergence and the history of different conceptions of the “economic” and the “economy” as objects of economic thought and political practice. The deadline for abstract submissions is May 1st. Details, including the full call for submissions, are available at the workshop website.

yes, spending more money on schools leads to better outcomes

There’s a new paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics that addresses an old puzzle: why do increases in spending on K-12 schools seem to yield small payoffs in terms of educational outcomes? Jackson, Johnson, and Persico use new evidence and various causal inference techniques to show that the naive prediction holds: more spending on schools leads to better educational outcomes, especially for poor students. Here’s how the authors summarize their findings:

Although we find small effects for children from affluent families, for low-income children, a 10% increase in per pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school is associated with 0.46 additional years of completed education, 9.6% higher earnings, and a 6.1 percentage point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty. The results imply that a 25% increase in per pupil spending throughout one’s school years could eliminate the average attainment gaps between children from low-income (average family income of $31,925 in 2000 dollars) and nonpoor families (average family income of $72,029 in 2000 dollars). (Jackson et al. 2016: 160)

These results are strengthened by related findings that increased spending from school reforms led to reductions in student-teacher ratios, higher salaries for teachers, and longer school years. In other words, more money led to higher quality inputs to the educational process, which in turn produces better outcomes, especially for kids who need the most from school itself.