TSP Roundup: Oct. 22, 2014

Ru102214A week’s worth of sociology, at your fingertips! It must be the future.


‘Technological Optimism’: Egg-Freezing a Better Deal for Companies than for Women,” by Rene Almeling, Joanna Radin, and Sarah S. Richardson.

Teaching TSP:

Desistance and Reentry: An activity for the LCD classroom.”

Citings & Sightings:

Ebola Scares: When Panic is a Pathogen,” by Evan Stewart.

Pushing Secret Service Director Off the Glass Cliff?” by Matt Gunther.

There’s Research on That!

Tax Haven Mavens,” Erik Kojola.

Tactical Textbooks: The Politics of Teaching History,” by Jack Delahanty.

Linking Up with New Social Networks,” by Evan Stewart. (more…)

TSP Roundup: October 14, 2014

RU101414Just a taste of what we’ve been cooking up at The Society Pages!

In Case You Missed It:

Same-Sex, Different Attitudes,” by Kathy Hull. With the recent SCOTUS demurral, it’s worth a look at the lightning fast change in Americans’ approval of same-sex marriage; this article is just six months old, and the numbers have already shifted.


Re-evaluating the ‘Culture of Poverty’ with Mark Gould, Kaaryn Gustafson, and Mario Luis Small,” by Stephen Suh and Kia Heise. Sixties-era rhetoric still affects black Americans.

There’s Research on That!

Fast Food Strikes Bring Everyone to the Table,” by Erik Kojola.

Think Fast: Policing, Race, and Implicit Bias,” by Richie Lenne.

Falling Poverty Rates Leave US Hungry for More,” by Jacqui Frost.

Growing and Granting Genius,” by Evan Stewart.

Rockefellers Less Loyal to Oil,” by Erik Kojola.

Atheist Church: A Predictable Paradox,” by Jacqui Frost.

Back in Living Color? Diversity on TV,” by Stephen Suh. (more…)

new arrivals!

TSP's Jon Smajda, multi-tasking

TSP’s Jon Smajda, multi-tasking

Our brilliant web editor, Jon Smajda, has been working overtime to bring a new look and feel to The Society Pages. Jon’s been after us for years to de-clutter these pages and to make it easier for folks to navigate. The new design should work much better for our mobile and tablet readers (desktops accounted for 85% of our traffic in 2012, but only 55% today) and Jon’s also dramatically improved our search functionality. Rest assured that you’ll still find all the same great TSP feature content on the new site (at the same URL’s no less) — just scroll down to find a handy directory for TSP features, Community Pages, and Partners. We’ll be building out our topics pages and introducing other exciting changes in the next few months, so we hope you’ll bear with us! As always, we’d love to hear your ideas and feedback — and you can congratulate Jon on his *other* new arrivals.

Welcoming Contexts’ New Editors

claudes-2011bThe ASA kindly asked me to write up a little welcome for the incoming Contexts editorial team for the most recent issue of Footnotes. Since TSP is the online home of contexts.org, I’m a former co-editor of the magazine, and Phil Cohen and Syed Ali are fellow sociological travelers, how could I resist?

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! The new editors for Contexts, the ASA’s one-of-a-kind, accessible to a general audience publication, have been chosen. They are Philip N. Cohen of the University of Maryland and Syed Ali of Long Island University. Cohen and Ali will take their turn at helm beginning in January. They bring with them big ideas about sociology, tons of energy and experience with public engagement, and their own distinctive (and sometimes irreverent) sensibilities.

About the New Editors

Philip Cohen is Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland-College Park, where he received his PhD in 1999. He returned to his alma mater in 2012 after stints at University of California-Irvine and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Cohen specializes in family demography, gender inequality, and labor market disparities and has published widely and in all the leading journals of the field. His most recent writing has been devoted to communicating sociological insights to bigger and broader audiences, largely through his prolific and widely read “Family Inequality” blog, which can be found at familyinequality.com, and his forthcoming book, The Family: Diversity, Inequality and Social Change (W.W. Norton & Co.).

Before settling on sociology, Cohen explored unsuccessful careers as a bagel server, journalist, and rock star. As his online followers and fan club well know, Cohen spends a great deal of his free time blogging. Instead of the rock-star life he once imagined, he now muses about families, inequality, sociology, and demography. “I enjoy research, teaching, and learning, and I’m happy to pursue those interests while satisfying my desire to argue about politics on the Internet,” said Cohen, who lives with his wife and two children in Takoma Park. He is also proud to have always worked at state universities (though he does admit to applying for a few private school jobs along the way).

Syed Ali is Associate Professor of Sociology at Long Island University-Brooklyn. His research interests center around migration, assimilation, ethnicity, and religion. He has conducted ethnographic research among Muslims in Hyderabad, India, South Asians in the United States, and migrant workers in Dubai. Ali is perhaps best known as the author of Dubai: Gilded Cage (Yale University Press 2010) but also has a new book (co-authored with yours truly) due out in January under the title Migration, Incorporation, and Change in an Interconnected World (Routledge/Taylor-Francis).

Ali spent his early childhood in rural West Virginia, but was uprooted to New York City once his parents realized, as he put it, “we were brown.” He returned to the South for graduate work at the University of Virginia, and then bounced back to Brooklyn where he now lives with his wife and two children. Once a late-night country radio DJ (under the unassuming moniker “John Thomas”), Ali now moonlights as a potter and Ultimate Frisbee player. His team finished 6th in the men’s grandmasters (40+) division at the recent national championships in Florida. More important than the result, however, Ali reports that “no one got hurt.” (more…)

Cohen on Distracted Driving, Distracting Data, and the Dangers of Driving

Another quintessential Philip Cohen take-down appeared this weekend. Cohen’s target this time was Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times reporter Matt Richtel’s new book, A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention. Cohen hasn’t even read the whole book yet, but what set him off was Richtel’s promotional tweet claiming that texting causes “more than 3000″ teen deaths a year (more than alcohol). That number, according to Cohen, is not only not accurate, it isn’t even plausible. Cohen explains: “In fact, only 2,823 teens teens died in motor vehicle accidents in 2012 (only 2,228 of whom were vehicle occupants). So, I get 7.7 teens per day dying in motor vehicle accidents. I’m no Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist, but I reckon that makes this giant factoid on Richtel’s website wrong, which doesn’t bode well for the book.” No, it does not.

As those of us who read him regularly well-know, this kind of fear-mongering with bad statistics is the bane of Cohen’s existence. But at least in this case, Cohen is more interested in is how the attention to texting and distracting driving (accurate or inaccurate as the  data and debate may be) actually distracts us from the deeper, more basic danger of driving itself–or as he puts it, “our addiction to private vehicles itself costs thousands of lives a year (not including the environmental effects).” Indeed, this is the real focus of the analysis and data he develops in the rest of the post.

Judging by the comments that have appeared so far, I’m not sure that everyone really understands or is ready for Cohen’s attempt to refocus attention to our modern reliance on driving for transportation. They continue to want to debate the dangers of texting or drinking or whatever. Or they find Cohen’s attention to mere driving as uninformative, disingenious, or even tautological. The typically dry, ironic way Cohen frames his argument probably doesn’t help . (The “shocking truth,” Cohen suggests, is that “the most important cause of traffic fatalities is …driving.”) But the bigger problem, I think, is that so many of us take driving so much for granted, that we can’t see it as a problem. We can’t see driving as a factor that can be causal, or a variable that could be manipulated and changed.

This whole situation reminds me of a thought experiment Joseph Gusfield posed in his brilliant, if under-appreciated 1981 book on drinking driving and the culture of public problems (a book, not incidentally, I have chosen for my “great books” graduate seminar this fall). Gusfield asks his readers to imagine that some all-powerful god has come to America and offers to give us a new technology that will make our lives immeasurably better by allowing us to go wherever we want, whenever we want, faster than we have ever gone before. The only catch? The god demands that we as a society sacrifice 5000 of our citizens every year for the privilege of this great technological innovation. Do we take that bargain? Would you? With our reliance on the automobile, Gusfield says, we already have. In rejecting the conventional wisdom and moralistic outrage about texting and bringing new data to bear on the dangers of just being in traffic on the roads, I think Cohen is just trying to force us to grapple with this consequences of this collective decision more honestly and directly.



TSP Weekly Roundup: September 23, 2014

RU092314Here at The Society Pages, we work to bring a little something for everyone, whether your primary interests lay in race, politics, culture, crime, inequality, or gender. Take a gander, share and comment, and, as always, let us know (gently!) what you think we’re missing or what you’d like to contribute!


Race, Spanking, and Shame: Dimensions of Corporal Punishment,” by Jennifer Lee. If nearly 80% of all Americans believe spanking is sometimes appropriate, why do we focus on racial groups and presumed practices?

The Editors’ Desk:

Notes on Race, Football, and Spanking,” by Doug Hartmann. Facts and sociological commentary on decoupling stereotypes and social phenomena.

More on Spanking: Race, Men, and the South,” by Doug Hartmann. A need-to-read link.

There’s Research on That!:

Good Kids Gone Guerilla: Why Flee to Fight?” by Jack Delahanty. Western youths seem to be flocking to the Middle East to join jihads. What are their aims? And who’s to blame? (more…)

More on Spanking: Race, Men, and the South

If you were at all interested in the ideas about race, football, and spanking I passed on yesterday, then you have to read this, from the next editor of Contexts magazine, Phil Cohen’s Family Inequality blog. It’s got a kind of weird title (“Survivor bias and the 92% of Southern Black men who support spanking”) and is a little long, but, wow, does it cover a lot of ground and brings some fascinating, on-the-spot data and analysis to bear these topics.

Notes on Race, Football, and Spanking

The news out of the NFL has been brutal these past few days, but certainly good evidence of my long-held conviction that sport is a powerful and important “contested terrain” for all manner of social issues, especially those pertaining to race. The issues and questions about corporeal punishment, race, and culture raised by the indictment, suspension, reinstatement, and re-suspension of Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings are at the top of that list of complicated social issues to which sport can help bring attention. But it is, as we sociologists like to say, really complicated. Below are a few brief but useful points and insights–the first, snippets from a 2012 New York Times commentary by Maryland sociologist Rashawn Ray; the second from a recent facebook post by Joe Soss, a sociologically-inclined political scientist who works in the public policy school here at the University of Minnesota.

First, a few empirical points from Ray’s 2012 commentary on race and spanking:

–”Blacks are more likely to spank their children.”

–”These punishing methods [also] differ by region and class.”

–”…corporal punishment in schools is allowed in Southern states;” and “…whites in the South more likely to spank than whites in the Northeast.”

–”Although some argue that spanking leads to physical aggression or passive-aggressiveness, the evidence is inconclusive.”

–”Altogether, spanking without communication is problematic and should not be used as the primary form of punishment.”


And this from Soss:

“In the wake of Adrian Peterson’s indictment, it’s remarkable how quickly the discussion has coalesced around the idea of a “racial divide” in cultures of parenting and corporal punishment. Some of the articles have been terrible; others have used the issue to say some smart things about race and ethnicity in America. But the focus of the conversation itself is a striking example of “racialization” in action. I’m not saying we should ignore the modest but persistent racial differences in opinion on this issue. But somewhere around 80% of *all* Americans say that spanking is sometimes appropriate. And depending on which polls you look at, the opinion gaps associated with racially identified groups are often smaller than differences associated with partisanship, ideology, religiosity, region, and age cohort. There is a lot going on here, it seems to me. But I’m reminded of something Ta-Nehisi Coates has often urged us to do: Pay close attention whenever widespread societal phenomena are reframed, for African Americans, as expressions of something distinctive to Blackness. Reflect on the ways this narrative implicitly exempts and exonerates Whiteness. Investigate how it moves from observations of small differences to claims of opposing group cultures. Ask what role it plays in constructing and reproducing understandings of racial otherness.”


None of this, I should note, is about the Peterson case itself; rather, it is about one of the larger sets of issues and debates that this case has given rise to.

Roundup Party

RU091214Oh hi. Between the start of the semester, sickness, and the mustering of a new grad board, the poor Roundup has gone un-rounded! Time to remedy that, with a Roundup of epic scale. There’s something for everyone, so let that sociological imagination run wild! And don’t forget, if you’re an educator or a student, to let us know how you’re using TSP in your classrooms. It always helps us find new directions!


The Feel of Faith,” by Daniel Winchester. Examining the physical artifacts of Eastern Orthodox worship.

Office Hours:

Ken Kolb on Moral Wages,” with Matt Gunther. A podcast on why public servants persevere, even when they don’t profit.

There’s Research on That!:

Crime and Scandal in the NFL,” by Ryan Larson. There isn’t a higher incidence of crime among NFL players, but there is a higher incidence of domestic violence; public outrage rises when punishments don’t seem to align with crimes; and how organizations handle scandal.

Homelessness at the VMAs,” by Jacqui Frost. Framing social problems and the “deserving” needy. (more…)

Books, Big Aspirations, and Basic Social Facts

The Star Trib keeps it general. We're hoping to get specific.

The Star Trib keeps it general. We’re hoping to get specific.

Welcome back! Wait, many of you never went anywhere. You’ve been reading TSP all summer. You guys have been great. It was me who’s been on hiatus, buried in book writing among other things. (One of those manuscripts, on migration with Syed Ali, is done; another, my long-suffering study of midnight basketball, is close… very close.) Anyway, with the start of a new academic year, I always feel a little like Mr. Kotter.

I am excited about the year ahead. On the teaching front, I’ll be offering—for the first time—a new graduate seminar on “great books” in sociology, a course that grew out of a few posts I did wrote winter, right here on The Society Pages. In terms of the website, we’ve got a great new graduate student board shaping up and we are just about ready to unveil a facelift for TSP (we think it’s pretty sweet).

One of our goals for The Society Pages this year, both online and in our social media, is to do a better job of covering the field of sociology taken as a whole. That’s no easy task. Some of this will involve bringing in more content on topics where there is a lot of great sociological research and writing, but that hasn’t been represented well on our site to date: for example, education, health and medicine, population studies. But doing a better job of covering the field also includes bringing in types of research that are also difficult to find on the web, but needed more than ever: basic social facts, emerging demographic trends, and empirical evaluations of public policy and conventional wisdom. For reasons that aren’t too hard to figure, there’s a lot of opinion and editorializing online, but not nearly so much accumulation and reporting of social facts and useful empirical information.

As fate would have it, our local newspaper ran two big pieces on the OpinionExchange page this very morning that seem to underscore these points and goals. One was about “the situation” in Ferguson, the other about the proliferation of flawed studies—what the author calls “pop-sociology and pop-psychology” in the news and in our social media streams. The former argued the need for more information before taking stands on Mike Brown’s death and its aftermath (though it didn’t have much to say about the broader social contexts and public policies sociologists have focused on in recent weeks). The latter was about how scholars in certain fields still seem to misunderstand the difference between correlation and causation. Specifics aside, both ran under the subtitle: “We need more facts.” We here at TSP couldn’t agree more—and will do our best to help provide those in the weeks and months ahead.


A few resources for the interested reader hoping for a little social science around that “Ferguson situation”:

Reflecting on Ferguson? There’s Research on That!

Social Fact: The Homicide Divide.”

Social Fact: Death—Not the Great Equalizer?

Explaining and Eliminating Racial Profiling.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education: “How Professors in St. Louis are Teaching the Lessons of Ferguson’s Unrest.”

The Washington Post Wonkblog: “How Decades of Criminal Records Hold Back Towns Like Ferguson.”

The Average White American’s Social Network is 1% Black.”

What Are Rappers Really Saying About the Police?

The Role of Empathy in Crime, Policing, and Justice.”

Failing to Understand When Non-White People Distrust the Police.”

How Targeted Deterrence Helps Police Reduce Gun Deaths.”

Who Would You Shoot?

Roundtable: Social Scientists Studying Social Movements.”

Roundtable: The Revolutions Will Not Be Globalized?

Reading the Camouflage: ‘You Are Now Enemy Combatants’.

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