With all of the attention (rightfully) focused on the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision, we’re a bit worried that the ruling about health care policy–one of the signature programs of Obama’s Presidency–may have gotten a bit lost in the blogosphere. Fortunately, our friends at Scholar’s Strategy Network have been on top of it. You can find links to all of their most recent commentaries and interviews here. If your time is limited, here’s a few to look at:
Sociological snacks, academic dishonesty, perceptions of illegal immigration, incarcerated parents, the crime drop, exacerbating the education gap with Adderral, and when we care about economic inequality, all this week on The Society Pages. Also, be sure to check out our topics pages for Gender, Culture, Inequality, Race, Crime, Politics, and Teaching to get our graduate board’s latest picks from around the web!
As summer starts, sociology blossoms! There’s a new issue of Contexts magazine (all content is available for free from SAGE publications for 30 days!), new podcast episodes, and more for your summer reading list.
“Why Age May Be Hillary’s Secret Weapon” is the cover tease for a provocative little piece in the new issue of The Atlantic (June 2015) on women, aging, culture, and power in contemporary society. The piece starts by pondering why, in an evolutionary context, female humans live so long and what role(s) postmenopausal women fulfill for the species. This science-y context sets the stage for an essentially sociological attempt to explain why “people of both sexes may feel more comfortable with ambitious older women than with ambitious younger ones.”
The bulk of the article reviews a body of social scientific research on the biases women face in the workplace and society at large, and how some of these constraints may be mitigated as women get older and, especially, become grandmothers. The larger implication is that candidate Clinton and others are actively “playing the granny card” in positioning their public images against other stereotypes about women in positions of authority and power.
A lot of the work comes out of psychology (especially the experimental stuff) but some sociological contributions find their way in as well. Indeed, there is a quote from Stanford sociologist Shelley Correll, and even an in-print reference to the American Journal of Sociology! And the overarching conclusion or claim is more positive, more progressive than what usually comes out of such research: “…the current cohort of female eminences grises may herald an era when aging, for women, ceases to be an enemy, and even becomes a friend.”
The main problem is that I’m not exactly sure if there really is a new generation of powerful women turning age to their advantage. Is this a real phenomenon or social trend? Certainly, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren are making headlines in United States politics, and Angela Merkel as German Chancellor is historic. And I’m happy to see Janet Yellen and Christine Lagarde in positions of economic leadership (as Chair of Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors and Head of the International Monetary Fund, respectively). But who else are we talking about? Does four or five or even a dozen or two dozen such women—gratifying as that might be in and of itself—really constitute a cultural transformation? Even The Atlantic admits the sample size is small. It could well be that we are drawing some pretty big conclusions and implications out of some developments that are quite recent and fairly limited.
Perhaps I shouldn’t nitpick an article that is doing the honorable work of promoting and assessing the rise of women’s status and power in society and bringing social science research to bear on issues of public interest and significance. I am fully on-board with both aims. Still, the sociologist in me can’t help but want to know whether we are talking about real social shifts and trends or just some exceptional—albeit exciting—individual-level developments. The answer to that question has some very real implications for how we use the research and the meaning and significance we draw from all of this.
“Research on a Potato Chip Budget,” by Chris Uggen and Doug Hartmann. TSP’s co-editors on the devastating effects of HR1806, the proposed reauthorization bill funding the National Science Foundation, which would strip 45% of the funding for social, behavioral, and economic sciences.
“Election 2016: Let the Sexism Begin!” by Caty Taborda and Sarah Catherine Billups, with research from Caroline Heldman, Lisa Wade, Susan J. Carroll, Stephanie Olson, Kathleen Dlan, Jennifer L. Lawless, Kathryn Pearson, Sheri Kunovich, and Pamela Paxton.
“When Women Lead,” by Caty Taborda and Sarah Catherine Billups, with research from Erin I. Demaiter, Tracy L. Adams, and Alexandra Kalev.
“Advanced Placement Testing Season,” by Amy August, with research from Grace Kao, Jennifer S. Thompson, Daniel G. Solorzano, Armida Ornelas, Joshu Klugman, Thurston Domina, Joshua Saldana, Saul Geiser, Veronica Santelices, and Wayne Au.
When I first started as a college professor, my father, a play-by-the-rules parochial school teacher and administrator his entire working life, always wanted to know if I wore a tie. It was for him, I think, a symbol of the status and decorum expected of a professional educator, especially one working in our institutions of higher learning. Yesterday, the final day of classes for Spring 2015, I wore a tie. But it was not for my father. It was for one of my graduate school teachers, Joseph Gusfield, who passed away this term in California.
Professor Gusfield was perhaps best known in academia for his first book, Symbolic Crusade, a study that argues that the American Temperance movement was less about moral or even social norms than about a traditional Protestant elite trying to impose and reassert its social status in a rapidly changing nation. For my part (as I’ve written about previously), I find his 1981 book on drinking-driving, The Culture of Public Problems, his best, an under-appreciated classic in both content and style. In it, Gusfield used a range of rhetorical styles (there is a chapter that reads scientific journal articles as an exercise in rhetoric, while another depicts legal studies as actual plays) and types of qualitative and quantitative research to deconstruct conventional understandings of drinking-driving. His primary accomplishment is to show how our usual focus on drinking-driving as the moral failing of individual citizens distracts from the institutional and structural problems of traffic and transportation, leisure-time use, urban design, ambiguities in the law, the power of corporate marketing, and the inherent dangers of driving itself are so very much a part of the “problem” as well.
Gusfield was a great icon in sociology and iconoclast of a professor. I have neither met nor read any other sociologist who was a better, more convincing, or more consistent advocate for sociology as irony than he. With razor sharp intellect and uncompromising belief in sociological information and insight, he embodied, for me, what was so unique and distinctive and intellectually powerful about symbolic interactionism, dramaturgical theory, and California sociology.
Why, then, the tie?
It goes back to the final meeting of the last seminar Gusfield taught at the University of California, San Diego. Somewhat out of character, it seemed, Professor Gusfield wore a tie. “I always wear a tie on the last day of class,” he said. Why? “Because you’ve got to remind everyone who is boss.”
It was a bit jarring to hear from this famously iconoclastic ’60s sociologist who studied social movements, discussed counter-cultures, and always seemed to reject the conventional wisdom. To my recollection, Gusfield went on to explain that in our easy-going, post-1960s, democratic culture—especially in Southern California where many professors wore shorts and t-shirts just like the students—it was easy to forget that we are not all equals, that we all have different roles and responsibilities in the classroom and in society. Though I was surprised at the time, I have long appreciated that non-ironic sociological lesson.
Last week, our former university president Mark Yudof quipped that “Americans spend more on potato chips than research – maybe they like the flavor better.” We haven’t checked Mr. Yudof’s math, but his points are well-taken. First, research budgets have been lean, particularly in the social sciences. Second, our research sometimes unearths truths that our leaders and citizens may find distasteful, particularly in the social sciences.
The Society Pages is built on the belief that social scientific information, analysis, and perspective is vital and necessary for policy makers, the general public, and the continued health and betterment of society. Yet producing this knowledge and insight requires some degree of resources and support. Today, one of the key U.S. sources of financial support for that work —the National Science Foundation—is currently under scrutiny and attack.
On April 15, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith introduced the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), the authorization bill for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This bill, a variation of which was floated last year as well, would impose a devastating 45% cut on the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate–effectively eliminating grant funding for sociology and the other social sciences. NSF review panels have generally done a terrific job identifying important research ideas to fund. Unfortunately, they must often reject a great number of equally important research ideas for lack of funds. A 45 percent cut would indeed be devastating.
Apart from our capacity to fund needed research, the Law & Society Association explains how the proposed bill could diminish the role of scientific experts and increase the role of political actors in setting scientific priorities. If you are a member of the American Sociological Association or another social science association, you probably already received a message encouraging you to contact your local Congressperson (and university officials) to reiterate the harm that this bill would do to core social scientific research and analysis. And if you just want to know more about the details of these proposed cuts, the Consortium of Social Science Association’s analysis is a good place to start.
If you like what we do on The Society Pages, please consider acting on behalf of social science research more generally. Having a potato-chip budget has been tough enough. We shouldn’t leave social science researchers with the crumbs in the bottom of the bag.
This week, Cyborgology reported from the #TtW15 conference (that’s “Theorizing the Web 2015″ for those not down with the hashtags), while we all wished Max Weber and Emile Durkheim happy birthdays, celebrated the Riot Grrrl movement, and considered guns, privacy, and presidential politics. Dive on in! more...
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