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Posts Tagged ‘Sociology’

When discussing research methods, there are a number of barriers to overcome in the ways that my students think about research. One is the frequent use of the word “experiment” as a generic term for “study.” Although that is annoying, and some students still do it after a semester of methods training, I’ve found that it is even more difficult to reconcile students’ various uses of the term “research.”

In high school and some college departments, a research paper is one in which you combine information from several sources into a single paper. In this context, “research” consists of the gathering of sources, likely from Jstor and other electronic databases. Within sociology, I think that these papers are better conceptualized as literature reviews or review papers. In contrast to my students, I think of research as the collection and analysis of data, though even this is complicated by the fact that many sociologists who use existing surveys will never collect their own data.

Due to this terminological confusion, there must be at least a few students who enroll in research methods courses wondering how many ways there are to search Jstor and why they have to spend an entire semester learning to do so. Discovering that they will spend a semester discussing ways to collect and analyze data must be a shock!


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The Add/Drop deadline for students at my school is two weeks into the semester. It was roughly the same at my previous institution. I’m not sure whether it is something about the students at my new institution or just the fact that I’m teaching Introduction to Sociology again for the first time in several years, but this year I received more requests to enroll in my class during this time period than I ever remember having before. About 2/3 of them came in the second week of the Add/Drop period, some at the end of the week, which meant that they wanted to enroll after missing two of 15 weeks, the first assignment, and over 100 pages of reading. I nicely explained this to them as my reason for denying their requests.

I know that some students cannot register when they are supposed to due to payment issues or academic probation, but it seems that at least some students must be treating the first two weeks of class as a trial period for their courses before determining if they will commit to a full semester. A few advisors also seem to be dropping the ball, suggesting that students change courses long after the spring advising sessions, though it is possible that students just didn’t show up for spring advising. The annoyance of all of this is probably increased by the fact that I never changed my schedule after the beginning of the semester during my own college days.

Of course, the most likely explanation is that the sheer awesomeness of sociology and, beyond that, my teaching of sociology spread like wildfire through the campus in the first week of classes, causing the huge number of requests to join my course.

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I recently came across a copy of Durkheim’s Suicide at a used book sale and decided to buy it since it was 80 cents and I didn’t already have a copy. The version I got was published by the Free Press. The front cover looks like this:

Suicide Front CoverThe front cover, though, is not the reason for this post. It was the back cover that was particularly interesting. Here it is:

Suicide Back CoverDespite the fact that the book’s subtitle is “A Study in Sociology” and several of the descriptions identify Durkheim as a sociologist, the upper left corner clearly classifies the book as “Psychology.” Similarly, the quotes describing the book’s importance are from Psychoanalytic Quarterly and American Journal of Psychiatry.

It would have been interesting to hear the discussion that led to such a critical work of sociology being labeled this way, but I assume that the decision came down to marketing. A lot of small bookstores might not have sociology sections, but they probably do have psychology sections, so maybe the Free Press thought that labeling it this way would allow it to appear in more stores. To the slight credit of the Free Press, the newer cover of Suicide appears to be labeled as “Social Science” but the quotes remain the same.

I guess that this isn’t quite as bad as labeling Bill O’Reilly as “Social Science” or Glenn Beck as “Non-Fiction,” but it does indicate that sociology’s quest for legitimacy continues…

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When I initially read The Hunger Games novels by Suzanne Collins, I appreciated the third book for its depiction of the messiness of revolution. It is not surprising that this messiness allows people from a variety of political orientations to connect with the story, as Sarah Seltzer and sociologist Mari Armstrong-Hough discuss at Flavorwire:

Beyond just advocating personal resistance to forces of political control, she says the books put forth the idea that “violence breeds docility.” “I don’t mean that threatening people with violence makes them docile, because it doesn’t. I mean that teaching people to be violent and consume violence makes them docile,” she explains. “The Games institutionalize a political docility not so much because they threaten violence to the districts’ children, but because they create a society in which people think they must choose survival over solidarity. I think a lot of people, regardless of their political affiliation, feel like there has been a lot of being forced to choose survival over solidarity going around in the US.”

Via: The Society Pages

See Also: Katniss Everdeen on the Academic Job Market and The Hunger Games and Movie Relationships

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The history of the sociology job market contains some interesting peculiarities. For example, George Herbert Mead received an M.A. in philosophy from Harvard and then went to Germany to work on his Ph.D. Before his dissertation was completed, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Michigan where he taught philosophy and psychology before later following John Dewey to the University of Chicago. He never completed his Ph.D. (Imagine the field day that a certain job site would have with his hiring today!) It was, I suppose, a different time. (A certain job site does have a field day with discussions of full professors whom it is argued couldn’t get a tenure-track position in today’s market with their current records.) The cases of Howie Becker and Erving Goffman show that not all of the big names in sociology had such an easy time on the job market while reinforcing how different things were back then.

At ASA in San Francisco this year, Howie Becker was the discussant on one of the “Young Ethnographer” panels (the one without Alice Goffman). About the papers, he said something along the lines of “How am I supposed to talk about such different papers at the same time” and then moved on to a discussion of his belief that the best ethnographic work (he actually stated that he prefers the term “field work”) is typically conducted by young people in graduate school who have the benefit of time.* Early in his career, he and his fellow University of Chicago graduate Erving Goffman (if this had been the session with Alice Goffman he could have brought things full-circle…) were unable to find work. So they conducted research.

According to Wikipedia (which has incorrect information about Mead’s education and, thus, may or may not be a reliable source of information on the biographies of sociologists), after completing his Ph.D. Becker conducted research at the Institute for Juvenile Research, in a postdoc at the University of Illinois, and as a research associate at Stanford before starting as a faculty member at Northwestern. Although things might not have seemed too dire because he received his Ph.D. when he was only 23, it was over ten years before Becker started what today would probably be considered his official career. Goffman, meanwhile, worked as a research associate at the University of Chicago and then for the National Institute for Mental Health before beginning as a faculty member at Berkeley.

Becker’s point in discussing the job market woes that he and Goffman experienced at ASA this year was that they both relished the opportunity to focus on research during those years, even as their friends took pity on them. My point in discussing them is to highlight the evolution of job market pathways in the intervening years. While a candidate today might be able to get a postdoc, the increasing reliance on adjunct labor means that the prospects for somebody without a tenure-track job who wants to stay in academia are much more likely to include cobbling together a poverty-level salary from various adjunct positions than earning a comfortable living conducting research. The outcomes of these pathways are also clear, since adjunct teaching leaves little time for building a publication record that will result in an eventual tenure-track job.

Despite what might have been perceived by their friends as early-career stumbles, Becker and Goffman went on to have illustrious careers in sociology and made large contributions to the discipline. How many similar contributions does the current opportunity structure within academia deprive us of?

*Later in his career, he claimed that he found time for field work by being a bad departmental citizen. It is best that we don’t mention the advice that he solicited on this topic from a few esteemed audience members.

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A few days ago, L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was revealed to have said some racist things. Although his fate as owner of an NBA team has not yet been determined, his ability to interact with those on his team and attend NBA games has been; he has been banned for life.

There are a number of interesting sociological questions related to this situation. One concerns the relationship between private statements and personal property. Another is related to types of discrimination and why statements that gain public attention can have more severe consequences than years of discriminatory practices. Although NBA players are paid very well, we can also use this situation to examine relationships between owners and players. Finally, Doug Hartmann at The Society Pages has a nice exploration of the situation’s impact on our understanding of racism in America.

Included in Hartmann’s post is a message from Max Fitzpatrick of Central New Mexico Community College (Edit: Fitzpatrick’s message is now its own post). Fitzpatrick writes:

Instead of merely being what Marx sarcastically called “critical critics”—those who attempt social redress through words alone—we should take these opportunities to bring attention to—and to change—the poor social conditions and institutional discrimination disproportionately faced by people of color. Attacking the material foundations of the problem will be more effective than simply laughing at the wrinkled old symptoms of the problem.

In some ways, the Sterling situation seems to support Fabio’s claim that, while we are not “post-racial,” we may be “post-racist.” Although racism is still prevalent, its public expression has been severely limited. As Fitzpatrick and Hartmann note, however, this may actually serve to make racism and discrimination more dangerous, since they continue to have serious negative effects even when society claims that they don’t.

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Arrest Rates

Following the arrest of Aaron Hernandez, who played tight end for the New England Patriots, a Facebook posted the CNN screen cap above. If you ask a member of the general public how the arrest rate in the NFL compares to that of other sports, or even the country as a whole, they might guess that it is higher, not lower. This is a good example of the difference between raw numbers and statistics and is an important part of the information literacy that students should learn in research methods and statistics courses. Exploring the numbers in a bit more depth (and ignoring the fact that the type of crime, which could easily influence perceptions, is not noted), we can see where misconceptions in the general public might come from.

Major League Baseball has 30 teams and each team has 25 players on its active roster, with up to 40 players signed at any given time. Assuming that these statistics are per year (another good question to ask!), if 2.1% of MLB players are arrested that means that 15.75 (for a 25-player roster) or 25.2 (for a 40-player roster) players would be arrested each year out of 750 or 1200 total players, respectively.

The National Basketball Association has 30 teams and each team has 15 players. If 5.1% of NBA players are arrested in a given year, that results in 22.95 players arrested out of 450 players. As you can see in the table above, this is above the national average. David Stern, the NBA’s commissioner, has famously tried to clean up the league’s image by enforcing a dress code since the beginning of the 2005-06 season.

The National Football League has 32 teams and each team has 53 players, more than twice the active roster of MLB teams and more than three times the number of players on an NBA team. If 2% of NFL players are arrested in a given year, this means that 33.92 players will be arrested out of 1696 total players. A more in-depth exploration of the rate of arrest for NFL players compared to the general population is available here.

If each arrest leads to a news story, it is easy to see how the general public could think that NFL players are getting arrested at a higher rate than their counterparts in other professional sports. Looking at statistics, however, reveals the truth that the large rosters of NFL teams that lead to more media coverage of arrests. A discussion of an easily-accessible topic like this might lead into a more detailed exploration of the selective coverage of certain types of crime by the media, leading to public perceptions about the rate of crime among various race and social class groups.

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