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Archive for the ‘Conference Attendance’ Category

As a friend noted last week, the presence of sociologists from all over the world descending upon San Francisco to hang out in the Hilton and discuss the conference theme of “Hard Times” while the homeless begged outside helped put things in perspective. Because of that, I was struck by Ana Velitchkova’s post at Mobilizing Ideas where she discusses her stay in the Tenderloin district, both a few blocks and worlds away from the conference hotel. She writes, in part:

The hotel reviews depict the place as located in an area where homeless people, drunks, and drug addicts loiter. Some reviewers even report bed bugs, which horrifies a San Francisco friend of mine most of all. While waiting for my room to be ready−I was being treated to a brand new bed [a sigh of relief!]−the manager, who is also a concierge, repairs guy, and anything else that he needs to be, regretfully informs me that “My only problem is the homeless and the drug dealers in front”. Indeed, the place isn’t that bad. The room is large and clean (I am not a fan of the smell of the cleaning products used but I can live with that for a few days, I try to convince myself). It has a bathroom en suite, free Internet, and coffee 24 hours: the traveler’s essentials.

The first morning challenges my poise though. One of the cute little conference outfits I had been so happy to pile in my suitcase makes me feel uneasy when I leave the hotel and walk the one block to Mason street, which separates the “good” part from the “bad” part of the neighborhood. The dark-blue business-casual dress matched with a white cardigan, red flats, and nylons, contrasts flashingly with the baggy jeans, tank tops, and sports jackets of the residents hanging out in the neighborhood. After eyeing me continuously, one man greets me with an exclamation, after I pass by him: “Good morning!” I barely have a chance to respond with a confused “Good morning” back, when a woman looks me over and mumbles something disapprovingly incomprehensible. I try to breathe normally and maintain a fast and steady stride as I make my way through the block. Beyond Mason street, I feel a tension release and realize my body had internalized a sense of fear of the downtrodden. Then, I start to wonder: ‘Who is really more in danger, they or I?’ (But notice the distinction this statement already implies.)

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing, then consider the ASA’s position (WARNING! Read only the first post on that page, read nothing else! Trust me!) on the difficulty of making the conference more financially accessible even for faculty members and spend some time thinking about hard times.

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Have you seen the lines at the Hilton Starbucks? If only there were another one nearby…

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I can’t believe that I didn’t put something about this on the Scavenger Hunt

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As we near the middle of August your thoughts are probably centered on things like the job market, syllabi, and last-minute preparations for ASA presentations but it is time to clear your mind and turn your attention to what really matters, the 2014 ASA Scavenger Hunt. How successful has the ASA Scavenger Hunt been? So successful that nobody even makes ASA Bingo cards anymore!

Last year I discovered that the beginning of the semester is not the best time for dealing with prizes if people actually enter, but that has not dissuaded me from announcing that if you enter and win there is at least a small chance that you will receive something for your efforts! You’re also welcome to play alone or set up conference pools with your friends.

Click here to download the official 2014 ASA Scavenger Hunt form

As in previous years, the rules are these:

  • The 2014 ASA Scavenger Hunt is open to anybody who is attending this year’s ASA conference in San Francisco. Your status as an undergraduate, grad student, assistant professor, or “famous” sociologist will not affect your chances of winning.
  • Record the dates, times, locations, and/or session numbers for the items on the list between Friday, August 15 and midnight on Tuesday, August 19.
  • Items may be double-counted. This means that if, for example, you attend a session outside of your research area in which a “famous” sociologist gives a disappointing, long-winded talk that begins with “I’m going to keep this short” you will have covered items 1, 2, and 5 on your list.
  • The person who submits a form accounting for the most items will might or might not receive… something! This is a very exciting opportunity and your chances of winning are high!
  • The winner’s name could be posted on my blog, unless the winner doesn’t want his or her name associated with a scavenger hunt, in which case the winner is welcome to choose a suitable pseudonym.
  • I will be playing along and will keep you posted on my own progress throughout the weekend. If nobody enters I will privately declare myself the winner and treat myself to ice cream.
  • If you would like to discuss your own progress on Twitter, use the hashtag #ASAHunt.
  • Have fun!

Additionally, you may find the following links helpful:

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On the heels of the recent petition asking the American Sociological Association to reconsider the timing and location of its annual meetings come a few signs that the ASA does, in fact, (sometimes) listen to its members. First, the ASA responded to efforts to more easily export the annual meeting schedule by providing that option within the online system. Now, it is seeking feedback on the ASA “App” and the ASA website. After years of being terrible, the ASA’s website has recently seen some improvements, so hopefully this will be another step in that direction.

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The other day, somebody started a petition to move the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association. The petition asks that ASA reconsider not only where the meetings are held, but when. Knowing basically nothing about conference scheduling, but assuming that many of the most well-known sociologists (with the resources to attend ASA no matter where it is) would not want to visit Kansas in August, it seems like the request regarding the timing of ASA is more likely to be considered by those who decide these sorts of things. Next year’s meeting in Chicago is scheduled for August 22-25, which seems fairly late. If nothing else, the ASA should make the timing of the conference a part of its consideration of various locations (for example, if Chicago is more expensive in early August than late August, maybe we shouldn’t go to Chicago).

With presidents who serve on a one-year basis, it may be hard for any suggestions to gain much traction within ASA, but I hope that the petition gets the attention of Ruth Milkman, ASA President-elect.

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This year Alpha Kappa Delta, the sociology honor society, put on teaching and learning preconferences at a number of regional conferences. I was fortunate to attend one of these and I came away with a lot of new ideas for things to try in my courses. This experience also provided a reminder that there are great people everywhere. While there were people present from all kinds of institutions, the most interesting discussion I took part in was led by a professor at a community college who had a lot of great ideas for engaging students both inside and outside of the classroom.

I have written a lot about the academic job market over the years and my experiences going on the market twice have reinforced the notion that you are not the status of your institution. Institutional resources and departmental norms may influence the amount and type of work that somebody is able to do, but we should not assume that those things influence the quality of somebody’s work, much less their intelligence. It is frustrating when sociologists overlook the structures that lead to differences in status and it is important to remind ourselves from time to time that at a conference the name of somebody’s institution is not as important as the name above it.

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In addition to learning that I should fund sociology at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, I also spent some time with senior colleagues, one of gave me some advice that is relevant to my continuing series on Academic False Consciousness. As faculty members, he said, we should always be loyal to individuals but never to institutions. The reason for this is that individuals are much more likely to be loyal to us than institutions and to think otherwise is to ignore everything that Marx tried to teach us.

I was reminded of this conversation when talking to a staff member who had recently decided to leave my school for a better job. Because the timing of his departure coincided with the beginning of the new academic year, some in the administration had grumbled about the difficult position that he put the institution in. Of course, if the same administrators had decided that he should be fired it seems unlikely that they would care what time of year it was.

The difficulty of discerning between loyalty to people and loyalty to institutions at a liberal arts school is that it can be hard to tell where people end and institutions begin. The staff member who quit his job certainly made things more difficult at the institutional level because it will be difficult to replace him in a timely manner. It will also, however, create an additional burden on his former coworkers, who will be asked to do more in his absence. Although thinking about his coworkers may have caused him to question his decision, it is actually the institution that will decide on the timetable for his replacement and whether or not his position will be filled with a temporary employee in the interim. If the institution decides that it will not, the burden on his former coworkers is not the fault of the employee who is leaving for greener pastures.

In the end, most of his coworkers supported his decision because they understood his reasons for leaving. The fact that he had found a better opportunity did not bring about the end of their loyalty to him. Although I think that we should dig in and make the most of the opportunities that are available to us in the positions we hold, the fact that we are given these opportunities should not prevent us from seeking better opportunities elsewhere.

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Fund Sociology

At the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York, the ASA made a statement that others should “Keep Calm and Fund Sociology,” as our purple conference bags noted. The continued funding of sociological research is certainly important, as successful efforts to deny NSF funding to political science make clear. Nevertheless, maybe the ASA should have used the approach of the British Sociological Association, which produced a video at its own annual meeting (available below) showing all of the ways why it is important to commit sociology. The video shows why sociology is important, which will hopefully lead to continued funding. It also makes me want to join the BSA.

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Although I missed them in Denver last year, I’ve been chronicling the ASA’s attempts to provide unisex restrooms since 2010 when I noticed the women’s unisex restrooms in Atlanta. With two conference hotels this year, the ASA saw two implementations of unisex restrooms.

At the Hilton, the unisex restrooms were similar to those at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, with a unisex sign in front of men’s and women’s restrooms that were right next to each other. While better than nothing, this implementation makes me wonder whether conference attendees actually treat the restrooms as unisex, stick to the gendered bathroom that they would usually use, or avoid them altogether.

Over at the Sheraton, the situation was different. In addition to men’s and women’s restrooms, the Sheraton also had restrooms that were designated as unisex and restrooms that were designated as accessible/family. These rooms were part of the hotel design and not an attempt by the ASA to impose its progressive attitudes toward gender on a gender-binary space.

If I were rating them, as I did for this year’s scavenger hunt, I would give the Hilton a 3 out of 10 and the Sheraton a 7 out of 10. While the Sheraton gains points for having preexisting unisex restrooms, these restrooms were designed for a single person (or a family). This is certainly better than providing no space for a person who does not feel comfortable in a gender-binary restroom but seems less progressive than offering a multiple-person restroom that can be used by everybody.

It turns out that I am not the only person interested in restrooms, since Bill O’Reilly is very concerned about a law in California that allows transgender teens to use the restrooms for the gender they identify with. If all restrooms were unisex, neither Bill nor I would have anything to complain about!

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