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Posts Tagged ‘ASA’

While I’m criticizing the ASA, I may as well state that it is time for the ASA to ensure that a laptop will be available for presenters to use in all sessions.  There were several times when the current policy of “bring one if you want one” caused problems before or during a session.  The solution to this problem may be as simple as requiring presiders to arrange for one to be present (either by bringing their own or arranging for a presenter to bring one and then informing the other presenters that one will be available) but the time has come where electronic presentations are the norm rather than the exception.  The availability of projectors in recent years (I’m pretty sure that I presented in Montreal using an overhead projector) is a positive sign that the use of audio and video in addition to PowerPoint presentations will one day breathe new life into presentations (and likely herald a new era of presentations going over their allotted time).

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One of the things that struck me about this year’s ASA conference was the bizarre attempt to demonstrate how progressive sociologists are by designating some of the restrooms in the Marriott as unisex.  On the surface, this seems like a case of sociologists walking the walk, and a friend of mine even remarked how cool this was when he saw them for the first time, but the execution of this idea was severely lacking.  The main problem was that the restrooms designated as unisex were the women’s restrooms.  On some level this makes sense because the Marriott restrooms featured fully enclosed rooms with toilets rather than the partial walls of a typical bathroom stall.  The men’s rooms, however, featured urinals (as men’s rooms typically do), which would have opened up anybody using them to exposure to the opposite sex.  I assume this is the reason that only women’s rooms were designated as unisex, but by doing this the ASA created a situation in which men could use the men’s restrooms, check themselves out in the mirror, etc. without the potential for this backstage behavior to be seen by women, but women who wanted to use a restroom in the same area could not.  Despite his initial excitement, my friend later admitted that he had not used the unisex restrooms, opting for the nearby men’s rooms instead.  Whether or not many men used the unisex restrooms, the ASA denied women some measure of privacy that it did not deny men.  I guess this is another example of the ASA’s good work.

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I’ve stated in the past that I don’t mind when people look at my nametag at ASA.  Of course, I may be a little more aware of tag checking than I was when my institutional affiliation was slightly more impressive, but if you are going to create a social situation in which people are required to wear nametags, it is pretty ridiculous to think that nobody is going to look at them.  What I do find offensive is when I introduce myself to somebody and after telling them where I work they say, “I’ve never heard of that.”  I know that sociologists have a reputation for being socially awkward, but what kind of asshole thinks that they have heard of every school in the country?  This year, I have decided that my official response to this statement is going to be, “Now you have.”  I’ll refrain from adding, “Asshole.”

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Usually, when people make bingo cards for events they are focused on things that may happen during the course of the event.  Looking at the card for this year’s ASA conference, however, it appears that one would have to go out of the way not to score a bingo.  Many of these spaces are akin to “Steve Jobs wears black mock turtleneck.” Hell, I’m not even there yet and I’ve already done a few of them.

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Hotlanta

I suppose that the good thing about this summer’s heat is that the temperature in Atlanta is not much worse than the temperature anywhere else.  Of course, given that I’m probably not the only person who will be staying at one of the ASA hotels for less-than-ASA prices, Atlanta may become a semi-annual destination.

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If you have been fortunate enough to find a job in the past academic year, you may be facing the prospect of a summer without pay.  Unfortunately, this summer may include things like moving expenses and attending the ASA conference (though you may have been able to negotiate for the costs of one or both of those) but eventually you will be paid and life will resume as normal.  When it does, what are you going to do with your money?  Personally, I went straight from grad student poverty to saving for a house, and from there to buying a house, and from there to a million little unforeseen expenses.  Tenured Radical has been doing this a lot longer than me, though, and she has some good advice for people who are finding themselves with a real income for the first time in their lives.  A brief highlight:

Credit cards are like crack. They sing us siren songs, and we love what they say because we can cure so much unhappiness today and pay for it tomorrow (and the next day, and the next day, and the next day….) Credit cards are like affairs: we tell ourselves and our friends there is nothing wrong with them, and yet we feel compelled to lie about them too.

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At the recent ASA conference in San Francisco, I was reminded that, as audience members, professors are typically no better, and in some cases much worse, than students.  I am continually amazed during presentations when professors enter late, talk among themselves, and leave early.  I’m also amazed that these professors do not appear to connect their disrespectful behavior to that of their students.

I suspect that they fail to make this connection because they do not believe they are being disrespectful.  Rather, the professors who enter a room late probably believe that they were doing Something Important, those who talk to others during a presentation probably believe that they are discussing Something Important, and those who leave early probably believe that they have Something Important to get to.  At a conference, these Important Things may be discussions of research but they are just as likely to be discussions with the other survivors of one’s graduate program.

In this way, students are not as different as they may seem.  When students enter a class late, talk during class, or leave early they sometimes have what we consider good reasons.  Maybe they were meeting with another professor after class, clarifying something we had discussed, or needed to get to work on time.  In other cases, however, we fail to see the value in student activities.  Students may have been talking to friends in the hallway, discussing plans for the weekend, or trying to get to the cafeteria early.  Like the professors catching up at old times during a session at ASA, though, students consider these to be Important Things.  Thus, the difference between important and inane, networking and nonsense appears to be a Ph.D.

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Every time I go to a conference I experience the academic equivalent of somebody checking me out.  That is, their eyes make contact with mine and then drift down to my nametag, before returning to my face.  I’m sure that this behavior is sometimes indicative of the sort of status game that many ascribe to it.  Most of the time, however, I think that those who have been “tag checked” project their own feelings onto the interaction (similar to my belief about candidates at the employment service).  The thing is, I tag check people all the time and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with a desire for status.  When I am at a conference I’m constantly trying to connect names with faces and remember if the familiar face I see is somebody I’ve met or merely looks like somebody I’ve met.  Given my new institutional affiliation (to which the most common reaction at ASA was, “I’ve never heard of that”), I doubt that anybody will suspect me of playing the status game.  In the future I’ll likely have to remind myself that the fact that somebody is affiliated with a school I’ve heard of does not mean they don’t want to talk to me because I’m from a school that they haven’t heard of.

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My first professional development request at my new school, for money to travel to ASA in San Francisco, has been approved.  During my interview I was told that the application process for this funding is little more than a bureaucratic hoop, but that didn’t stop me from worrying that the economic downturn would prevent somebody who has been on campus only four times from getting approval.  Now that I have received it I am free to pay my final “cheap” conference registration fee.

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In teaching, you typically get what you put in.  The pseudonymous Russell Smith (no relation to the pseudonymous John Smith) at the Chronicle of Higher Education has either forgotten this or just doesn’t care.  Based on his recent post, it appears that the latter is more likely.  He writes:

I remain open-minded. What if my students are right? What if the readings are too long or too boring or don’t make sense? What if they know something I don’t, such as the fact that this English class truly isn’t going to help them all that much in life, and that such requirements nowadays are ridiculous and retrograde?

When all the world is abuzz with digital twitterings, it may be that the humanities requirement is a dead and rotting carcass that we tiptoe around, neglecting to bury at our peril.

I am perfectly prepared to accept the proposition that the most effective teachers have studied these questions and arrived at appropriate responses. I suspect that they have attended conferences, refined their techniques, and deployed their forces. They are able to see each student with fresh eyes, and they welcome the challenges of life in the classroom. I admire — no, I envy — them. But it is a rare and distant land in which they live, difficult to reach.

I can’t tell if the author expects readers to find his frankness refreshing or his ennui romantic (he is an English professor, after all, and while he discusses Beckett, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther seems closer to the target).  Maybe he would see me as naively optimistic about my own career in the classroom, but the same qualities that have drawn me to a liberal arts institution appear to be boring him to death.

Incidentally, the ASA’s section on teaching and learning is once again holding a pre-conference the day before the annual meeting.  Entitled “Teachers are Made, Not Born,” it is exactly the sort of thing that Smith gets excited about each August if he tries hard enough.  Hopefully those who attend (an application is available at www2.asanet.org/sectionteach/2009-application.pdf) will maintain their interest in quality teaching past “the first two weeks of the semester.”

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