our known unknowns

This is a WordPress.com blog, which is not as flexible as if it were a WordPress blog we were serving ourselves. For example, I would love to have a custom favicon instead of the WordPress logo next to the URL up in your address bar, but WordPress.com does not allow this. Even though one can still do a lot of twiddling with the template, the twiddling is actually editing CSS that runs on top of other CSS that runs on top of the actual HTML template. The result is super-kludgy and not wholly satisfying, although if you look at the template we used as our starting point, you can see that much customization has been done.

Still: Continue reading “our known unknowns”

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.

coming down with a case of the jeremy

Traveling this weekend, and I’m having a lovely time.* However, my travels have been a bit more, um, exciting than usual. For example, for the first time in my life I was paged in the airport. A bit freaked out at hearing my (mispronounced) name over the speakers, I rushed back to the gate I had just left to find that I had left my wallet, with all my ID, money, keys, etc. on the plane I had just gotten off. Just walked away and didn’t even think about it.

Now, as I plan for my return, I realize that I have arranged to return my rental car to the wrong airport. Making arrangements to change the drop-off mid-rental is just the occasion for the rental car company to charge me an extra $100. This seems a small price to pay to avoid trying to get from one airport to another by 5am tomorrow.

*I am mystified that my friend and host not only has no wifi in her home; she does not even own a computer. Thus, she doesn’t have any reason to know which coffee shops have wifi. Although I am only a few dozen miles from silicon valley, and in the middle of a small city, I have hiked deep into the technological woods.

the believing trick

From Jon Elster, Ulysses Unbound, p. 72:

It is a conceptual truth that one cannot consciously decide to adopt a belief simply on the grounds that having it would be useful.

Not to get all personal here on sociology’s brand-new team blog, but can I just say: clearly Jon Elster has not dated some of the people I have dated. ‘Cause then he would have had conversations suggesting some deep empirical limitations to his conceptual truth. ‘Cause then he’d have ascertained that while, say, a person did not really, really believe in astrology, that, for immediate practical purposes they indeed did/would give all indications of believing in astrology, including reading charts and drawing conclusions about others on the basis thereof. (Various other things could be substituted for astrology here, depending on what conversation and with whom.) I guess “useful” in the quote isn’t really it so much as “adopting a belief on the grounds that having it would make life more interesting, meaningful or fun.” Continue reading “the believing trick”

little hiss can’t be wrong

A friend who works in the private sector somewhere on the Great Plains sent me a story from a national business newsletter in which someone at her company was interviewed. She asked me to identify which of several quotes from this co-worker bothered other people at the company. I presumed this challenge would be easy enough but looked the article over several times and didn’t see what she was talking about. So I asked and the answer was this part where her co-worker was quoted using the phrase “throw a hissy fit.” This was bothersome because people felt it gave them impression of their corporation as a backwoods rube-run enterprise. It didn’t even faze me. I’m trying to figure out if “hissy fit” is an uninterrogated part of my rural habitus. I mean, of course I recognize it as a colloquialism, but is it really a rural colloquism? Is that I would now say “throw a snit” instead of “throw a hissy fit” an unconscious version of when I started saying “soda” instead of “pop”?

BTW, non-sequitur personal Thanksgiving update: Continue reading “little hiss can’t be wrong”

the sweet spot

Northwestern sociology traditionally does consequential faculty deliberations like this: the person to the left of the chair is given the floor and says their piece, then the person to their left says theirs, and so on around their room, and only afterward is a more free-for-all discussion format used. I’ve only seen this system in action for a couple meetings, and I’m already smitten with it. It feels contemplative, orderly, and fair.

Still: I’ve become a teensy bit obsessed with the question of, given this system, what’s the best place to sit from a strategic standpoint–what’s the seat from which one can exercise the most influence on the ultimate decision that is made. There is a bunch of deliberating groups research that would suggest that, typically, you want to be the first to speak. However, consequential faculty deliberations are not the task for which these studies were done. Among other things, at least in collegial places, there is strong normative pressure to maximize the extent to which you sound like you deeply respect and see the reasoning of previously expressed opinions, even when actually you completely disagree with them.

I think, certainly, if you have an opinion that you think weakly conflicts with the consensus going into the meeting, you are best off going at the beginning and trying to get a domino effect going. If you are hoping to carry the day with an opinion that goes more strongly against consensus, I suspect maybe you should sit toward the end and try to rattle people with some kind of melodramatic or dire statement, although I’m skeptical of that working unless you’ve built up a lot of intradepartmental street cred.

For decisions where the consensus is unclear and could go any of various ways, my suspicion is that you want to sit somewhere between 2/5 and 3/5 of the way through the group: enough that you have a lot of input to work with, so you can fashion your opinion as consistent with general views but pointing toward your desired conclusion, but still not so late that people feel like the decision has already solidified by the time it is your turn.

Of course, a countermeasure to any such gaming of the system would be to wait until everyone is seated and then randomly choose a starting person (perhaps with a rousing round of “Spin the Treo”). My guess is that most faculty anywhere would be against doing that, because faculty members are professionals, and if there is anything being a professional does to your habitus, it is to convince you that you are insulated from the mundane social psychological dynamics that affect regular folks.