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.

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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.

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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.

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what i’ve learned: three years on asa council

From 2016-2019 I had two positions that have taught me a lot about academic leadership and organizations. I led the process of redeveloping UNC’s General Education curriculum, “IDEAs in Action,” which was approved in April 2019; and I sat on the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) elected Council. These two blog posts are intended to explain some of the things I’ve learned from both of these experiences.

This post will deal with what I’ve learned from three years serving on the ASA council. The previous post dealt with my role leading UNC’s general education curriculum redesign.

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blueprint for what?

[Content notice: discussion of rape, genocide]

Last spring, Nicholas Christakis published his latest book, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. The title already sets the stage for some old-fashioned biological determinism.1 For anyone familiar with evolutionary psychology, it is 520 pages of mostly the same claims, logic, and citations as any other recent evopsych writing aimed at a general public readership. He’s a fan of Steven Pinker’s theses in Enlightenment Now and Blank Slate, and Pinker’s endorsement is prominent on the front cover of Blueprint. For those unfamiliar, the field is riven with “just-so stories,” or simplistic, largely unverifiable assertions about our evolutionary past that justify modern stereotypes and inequalities. The New Yorker summarizes and historicizes this pattern well. When it makes normative claims, evopsych tends to engage in the same is/ought fallacy that structural functionalism did: whatever we observe people doing must serve some necessary function—or else it wouldn’t have evolved—and so whatever is, ought to be. Social reformers beware: you’re meddling with forces beyond your comprehension and fighting against human nature.

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to tweet or not to tweet? tips and tricks for sociology grad students

Earlier this week, I was asked to help organize an event for graduate students seeking advice on the “responsible use of twitter for grad students.” Of course, my first instinct was to crowdsource advice from #SocTwitter itself. In this post, I gather together some of the advice suggested by others, including a list of already published or posted resources and guides.

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what I’ve learned: chairing unc’s general education curriculum redesign

From 2016-2019 I had two positions that have taught me a lot about academic leadership and organizations. I led the process of redeveloping UNC’s General Education curriculum, “IDEAs in Action,” which was approved in April 2019; and I sat on the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) elected Council. These two blog posts are intended to explain some of the things I’ve learned from both of these experiences .

This first post will deal with what I’ve learned from three years chairing the curriculum redesign process.

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Faculty: Should you have an advising expectations document? (Probably?)

One of the benefits of sabbatical is finally dusting off to-do tasks that have withered on the list from neglect. For me, today one such task was (finally!) looking at this Advising Expectations and Guidelines from @dandanar and updating it for my students (grad advisees + undergraduates working on research). I don’t think anything in this document will surprise my current students, but I’m hoping laying it out on paper (and making it available online) will help smooth the process of establishing new advising relationships in the future. My primary goal with this document was to encourage students to ask for assistance from faculty–especially on reading work-in-progress. But it is also meant to facilitate that ask so it is as easy as possible for me to say yes.

I’m posting the work-in-progress document here to start the conversation. Faculty: Do you have such a document? Why or why not? What do you include in yours? Students: Are these helpful? Why or why not?

And for more excellent advice on things like being a good advisee, forming your committee, and reviewing work kindly follow the links! (h/t to @olderwoman for the suggestions on Twitter).

learning and teaching actor-network theory

Actor-network theory (ANT) is one of the most interesting and controversial recent-ish movements at the intersection of science and technology studies (STS) and social theory. (By recent-ish, I mean that it’s too new to be included in some “contemporary” social theory syllabi which stop in the 1970s or 1980s and also that the earliest writers in the movement are still active). ANT is probably most famous for its claims about the agency of non-humans actors, which is an example of its assertion of several radical forms of “symmetry”. On a few occasions, I’ve been asked for suggestions about to understand actor-network theory, or what to assign when teaching it. The following is a list of some of the pieces that have been most useful to me, and which together serve as a pretty good overview of the approach along with some pieces I think teach particularly well. There are other existing exhaustive resources and some nice overviews with extensive bibliographies (some of which are mentioned below). My goal here is not to duplicate those resources, but just to idiosyncratically note which pieces have “clicked” for me and might perhaps work for you as you try to read up on ANT or look for readings to assign in a course or add to a prelim list.
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tips and tricks for running a workshop

As a graduate student in Michigan, I benefitted from attending and participating in multiple subfield-specific workshops. As at many sociology departments, many of the most important substantive conversations and professionalization discussions happened in these workshops. I learned a ton in my graduate seminars on economic sociology or classical theory, but I learned just as much in the econ soc and theory workshops that I participated in for years after I’d stopped taking courses. As a faculty member, I’ve tried to export some of that model to Brown (which did not have as strong of a workshop culture). More recently, I’ve also had the opportunity to participate in a couple of different interdisciplinary workshops (for science studies students and for an interdisciplinary humanities group). Traveling across these different settings led me to reflect on some of my favorite practices that seem to make a workshop run well. Below, I’ll list a few small practices I’ve seen deployed to make workshops more engaging for participants and useful for presenters.

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devilish details: a reputational ranking of generalist and specialist sociology journals

The following is a guest post by Erin McDonnell and Dustin Stoltz.

Journal reputation or status is sometimes of practical interest to professional sociologists. How well-regarded are some newer and online journals? How do second-tier generalist journals fare versus specialty journals? How do sociological reputations differ from available metrics such as impact factors from Journal Citation Reports? To capture generalized status reputations we asked “Think CVs for an open job: Where would be better for a grad student to publish a solo-authored article?” (see the poll). Today, we examine 23,128 head-to-head evaluations of 92 journals by 422 unique user-sessions. 

For the TL;DR crowd: ASR and AJS are a clear top-tier, followed by Social Forces and then a cluster comprised of some generalist as well as top journals from some specialties. A dendrogram analysis based on similarities in win/loss patterns identifies five clusters: 1) ASR and AJS; 2) Social Forces, Social Problems, and Demography; 3) a cluster comprised of top Theory and (mostly quantitative) Methods journals, as well as specialist journals for Gender, Family, Organizations, Education, Networks, Race, Economic, Medicine, Culture, Social Psychology; 4) a cluster dominated by second-journals in the above specialties and top-journals for other specialties (Religion, Urban, Mobilization, Politics, and Qualitative Methodologies; 5) a cluster of lesser-known journals, which brings together journals with low impact factors as well as high-impact-factor journals that are very influential in some circles but not widely known in sociology as a whole.

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Citing more broadly

Update 12/7/19 I added a few mechanical suggestions at the bottom of the post

How do you decide what literature to cite when you write an article? Sociologists routinely complain that economists fail to cite the sociological work on the topics they write about. But sociologists themselves are typically citing too narrowly. Most view citations as a matter of nodding (or genuflecting) toward the “key” people or concepts with special attention to making sure to cite anybody who they think might end up reviewing the paper. In the process they focus on a few famous people (mostly White men), often those assigned in the courses taken in grad school, and/or articles published in the American Sociological Review or the American Journal of Sociology. We may also include people we know personally or have met at conferences.

These practices both tend to downplay the contributions of women and people of color and tend to exacerbate the prestige hierarchy in sociology. The #CiteBlackWomen campaign has been importantly pushing back against these practices, but even intentionally citing Black women runs into the problem that there are no race designations in citations so you have to know who is a Black woman to cite them, leading to citations of a few famous people, not a broader base of citations. Reviewers are notorious for “cite me” recommendations or the occasional suggestion of lines of research the writer has missed, but apart from that, a typical journal reviewer is not generally going to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all research in an area and it is not reasonable to expect reviewers to do their own literature searches as part of a review.

I’ve talked to students about their citation practices, and it appears that the most common approach involves sorting Google Scholar search results by number of times cited, and citing the most commonly-cited sources. This, of course, just exacerbates inequality.

So how can we get out of this box? I have been as bad as everyone else for most of my career, but I have recently been working hard to push back against the elitist bias, and want to share some of the strategies I have used to try to expand my citation networks. I urge others to share yours.

Since this post has gotten long, let me begin with my three main take-away points. The rest is strategies for implementation.

  1. Look for and cite the most recent work on your empirical topic, paying special attention to work coming from people who are not already highly-cited, less-prestigious institutions, and less-prestigious journals. This requires a broad search strategy, about which more below.
  2. If your work takes off from some key theoretical or empirical papers, look for the recent work that cites those papers in Google Scholar or Web of Science, again paying special attention to works by those who are not already elites.
  3. Pay attention to work in progress including dissertations, conference papers, and publications in journals your library does not subscribe to.  PDFs of many of these are available online through working paper repositories (SocArXiv, ResearchGate, Academic, SSRN, and many campus or personal web sites); good libraries subscribe to the dissertation database. You can also do an Internet search for the author and email them to ask for a copy of the work and to ask whether there is a published version or related papers. Most people are happy to cooperate when you make these requests.

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legal estrangement and police reform in minneapolis

The following is a co-authored post by Michelle Phelps, Amber Joy Powell, and Christopher Robertson.

Since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, the topic of police violence and police reform has been at the forefront of the debate about the future of criminal justice in the U.S. Questions about policing have peppered the recent Democratic debates and have featured prominently in some of their policy plans. This week, several candidates met with a group of men and women who were formerly incarcerated to discuss criminal justice reform.

Yet often missing in the public conversation about police reform are the voices of community members most heavily impacted. While some of these residents get involved in community organizing, through #BlackLivesMatter chapters and other groups, many never have their opinions on police reform heard.

During 2017-2019, our research team traced the process of police reform through the eyes of the local police (Minneapolis Police Department), professionals and activists involved in reform, and residents in North Minneapolis, the residential community in our city most impacted by high rates of poverty, racial segregation, street crime, and police contact.

In this post, we provide some preliminary results from our interviews with residents in North Minneapolis. We conducted over 120 interviews, collecting survey responses about attitudes toward the police and in-depth qualitative accounts of their experiences with police and attitudes about police, policing advocacy groups, and police reform.

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the milgram study and the suppression of violence research


In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted a study on conformity to authority that is now infamous among social scientists. The study was relatively straightforward. Participants would be asked to administer shocks to another human who had performed poorly on a test. They were told that doing so could help the poor performer learn to do better. If a participant resisted administering the shocks, a member of the research team would insist that the participant continue for the good of the research. The shocks increased in intensity over the course of the study, reaching a level that could be lethal. In reality, there was no one receiving these shocks, but a paid actor would pretend to be hurt, leading the participant to believe that they had caused real harm to another real person. As a surprise to the researchers, over half of participants administered the final “lethal” shock. The findings from this study are commonly used to explain how genocides are perpetrated. Milgram and his team argued that ordinary people are willing to commit incomprehensible acts of violence so long as someone in authority assures them it is the right thing to do.

I first encountered the Milgram study as an undergrad in an introductory psychology class. By the time I graduated, I learned about the study in at least three other classes. Each time, the discussion was essentially the same. Our professor would insist that the findings from the study are important, but that the study is unethical due to the harm it caused participants. That harm was described as the emotional trauma of walking around with the knowledge that you could—and would—murder another person if someone asked you to do so. There are other ethical issues as well, including the deception used by the research team and how difficult it was for participants to withdraw their consent to be in the study, but they were also tied back to that main concern: the weight on the conscience of a participant who administered that “lethal” shock.

As a professor, I was prepared to have the same discussion with my students in Science, Power and Diversity as we discussed research ethics. But when it came time to do so, I had a different perspective on the Milgram study that comes from my own work with perpetrators of sexual violence—and how hard it is to research them.

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