Adam Gopnik is at it again. This time our favorite writer from The New Yorker uses recent public debates about poverty and foreign policy to talk about that oh-so-sociological concept of norms. Gopnick tells us how norms differ from laws: “a law is something that exacts an announced cost for being broken. A norm is something that is so much a part of the social landscape that you wouldn’t think, really, that anyone could break it.” He tells us why these informal rules matter so much to social life (they constitute the unwritten, daily spirit and practice social order requires and law tries to systematize and impose), how they are enforced (like anything else “by bribes and threats and clear punishments” in actual communities and social contexts), and what can happen when they are eroded or violated (basically, all hell can break loose). The underlying irony in the piece is that those “Republican moralists” whom Gopnick says are breaking some of our most sacred political norms are cut from the same cloth as those who claim normative collapses are at the root of poverty and inequality in the United States. But Gopnik doesn’t really dwell on the politics. Rather, he seems mostly to want to edify us all about the meaning and import of norms in human life. He’s the journalist playing sociology professor, and doing a pretty darn good job of it.
Welcome, spring! Here’s some fresh soc to start the season off right.
“Midwest Sociological Society Meetings: Register Now!” An update from MSS president Doug Hartmann on the meetings, which will feature Dalton Conley and Lisa Wade.
Give Methods a Chance Podcast:
“Matthew Hughey on His Tripartite Methodological Approach to Understanding Film,” with Kyle Green. TSP alum Green interviews UConn’s Hughey.
“D8TR Dilemma: Millennials ‘Just Talking’, ‘Hanging Out’,” by Sarah Catherine Billups. Kathy Hull on the new terminology of budding relationships.
“The Harm Done by Media Coverage of Political Disputes about Public Health Measures,” by Erika Fowler and Sarah Gollust.
“An Analysis of New Census Data on Family Structure, Education, and Income,” by Shannon Cavanagh.
A Few from the Community Pages:
- Education and Society debuts its new interview feature with three questions with Josipa Roksa.
- Sociological Images rounds up the best of February, revisits Skull-Face, and talks Irish dance and changing ideas of race.
- Sociology Lens on pronouns, gender policing, and a new(ish) acronym: PGPs.
- Girl w/ Pen! and its latest Manly Musings: Beyond “Bossy” or “Brilliant”? Gender Bias in Student Evaluations.
My father in law once asked, “How’re things going down at the brain mill?” Well, today I’d respond that these are challenging but exciting times in education. We’ve all read the headlines — powerfully disruptive technologies, troubling race and class disparities, privatization and disinvestment in public schools, historically high tuition and debt loads, school-to-prison disciplinary pipelines, and rapidly changing demographics. While social scientists are doing important research to make sense of these changes, there are few accessible resources for “interested non-experts” who want to keep up with the field. That’s why we’re so happy to welcome our new Education & Society community page to TSP. We’ve been wanting to expand coverage of the “education beat” for years.
An interdisciplinary team of Minnesota-based education researchers writes and curates features like 3 Questions, 250 Words, and Education in the News. You’ll find interviews with education researchers as well as terrific summaries of new education research appearing in journals like the Annals, American Journal of Education, Sociology of Education, and Social Psychology Quarterly. We’ll be featuring Education & Society on the TSP main and topical pages as well as in our social media feeds. But anyone curious about life at the brain mill should regularly stop by the community page and Twitter feed.
Only two days left to get the early-bird registration fee for the upcoming Midwest Sociological Society meetings in Kansas City, March 26-29th. The meetings, for which I serve as Program Chair are titled “Sociology and Its Publics: The Next Generation.” They will feature keynotes from Occidental’s Lisa Wade, founder and author of the wildly popular TSP blog Sociological Images, and NYU’s Dalton Conley, author of You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist and Being Black: Living in the Red.
Wade’s presentation, “Doing Pubic Sociology: Notes from a Practitioner,” will take place on 3/26 at 4:30pm.
Conley’s presentation, “Out of the (Ivory) Tower and into the Fire: The Promise and Peril of Outward-Facing Sociology,” will take place on 3/28 at 4:30pm.
For more information and to register for the 78th annual MSS meetings, please visit www.TheMSS.org.
“Is the (Tea) Party Over?” by Erik Kojola and Jack Delehanty. Scholars Meghan A. Burke, Ruth Braunstein, Andrew Perrin, and Robert Horwitz weigh in on the past, present, and future of a young political movement.
“Oscar Winners Put Social Issues Center Stage.” A look at some accessible research on four big social issues raised in Academy Award speeches last weekend.
“Extra! Extra! Read All about It, All the Time!” by Sarah Catherine Billups. A look at media saturation with research from Sara Goldrick-Rab, Lauren Schudde, Jennie E. Brand, Fabian T. Pfeffer, Matthew Curry, Yu Xie, Mina Dadgar, Madeline J. Trimble, Christopher Jepsen, Kenneth Troske, and Paul Coomes.
“Who—and How—Community College Helps,” by Anne Kaduk and Amy August. A sociological primer on Obama’s plan to make two years of community college free, with work from Kenneth T. Andrews, Neal Caren, Rachel Best, Arnout van de Rijt, Eran Shor, Charles Ward, Steven Skiena, Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, and Stephen Ostertag.
“Orphaned by Incarceration,” by Sarah Catherine Billups. When Sesame Street adds a character with a parent behind bars, Christopher Wildeman, Sara Wakefield, Kristin Turney, and John Hagan talk to The Nation.
“Happily Never After? The Challenges of ‘Marrying Up’,” by Sarah Catherine Billups. Scholar Jessi Streib discusses how cross-class marriages aren’t as common as they seem in the movies, but they certainly can, and do, work out in the real world.
“Naomi Sugie on Using Smartphones for Research,” with Sarah Esther Lageson. Naomi Sugie tells GMAC, “Smartphones have their limitations, but they… can expand the realm of empirical investigation for researchers to consider questions and ideas we just weren’t able to think about before…”
A Few from the Community Pages:
- Speaking of kids with incarcerated parents, Sociological Images takes a look. They also ask, who’s harmed by pesticide drift? Taking a turn, they consider the social construction of chest hair, pharma companies’ spending, and how strawberries caught on in the U.S.
- Sociology Lens asks, “Why are we obsessed with what teens are doing on social media?“
- Cyborgology checks out a new ad campaign, “#SpeakBeautiful: Reinforcing a dangerous metric,” and wonders “Why Do Many Reasonable People Trust Science?“
Attention, friends-of-TSP, attention: Philip Cohen and Syed Ali have taken the reins at the ASA’s Contexts magazine, and their first issue—plus site redesign by Todd Van Arsdale and Jon Smajda—has hit the web!
Ali and Cohen have assembled an all-star team of authors and a truly engaging read, cover to cover and link to link. Among the highlights: a suite of articles on gun culture, including Jennifer Dawn Carlson’s feature “Carrying Guns, Contesting Gender” (free, in full, on the web) and Stephen Thrasher,Jean Beaman, and Todd Beer’s pieces on Ferguson; an interview between TSP-alum Hollie Nyseth Brehm and genocide survivor Keith Chhe; Erik Olin Wright‘s take on Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century; and a look at how lesbians can be the leaders in gentrification by Amin Ghaziani, author of There Goes the Gayborhood?
For the first four weeks after each issue of Contexts is published, its entirety is available for free (no paywall!) from SAGE, its publisher. Other selected content is available right on contexts.org. Have a look around. Our illustrious partners are off to a great start, and we couldn’t be happier to have them as part of the TSP family.
- Equal Pay for Equal Work: The Council on Contemporary families offers aportfolio of research on 50 years since the Equal Pay Act, and we suggest checking out the pieces on how the wage gap narrows among high earners and how the wage gap is affected by race and ethnicity.
- Awareness of Diseases like ALS and Alzheimer’s: A 2012 American Sociological Review article by Rachel Kahn Best outlines how awareness campaigns bring more funding to medical research on some conditions, but add to the stigma associated with others.
- Voting Rights: The Scholars Strategy Network presents an overview of research on steps forward and back since the Voting Rights Act of 1963.
- Mass Incarceration: Sarah Shannon and Chris Uggen offer a starting point with their time-lapse visualizations of changes in American punishment, including the disproportionate incarceration of black men.
This week on TheSocietyPages.org…
Office Hours Podcast:
“Intro to Sociological Methods Using the Reading List,” by Amy August. An exercise—with worksheets—designed to help students learn methods by distilling academic journal articles.
The Reading List:
“Self-Segregation in San Francisco Schools,” by Neeraj Rajasekar. Studies find school choice works through parents’ social networks to segregate schools.
“Working for the Long Weekend,” by Sarah Catherine Billups. Long weekends make a great treat, but one sociologist argues adopting the schedule full-time wouldn’t help work-life balance.
A Few from the Community Pages:
- Sociological Images goes to Mardis Gras!
- Cyborgology on the exclusive aesthetic of writing—long-hand.
- Sociology Lens on the influence of Facebook in UK elections.
“Justifying Our Love,” by Jacqui Frost. Americans love love, even when it hurts. How have love and culture mingled to create modern “love”? Frost brings research from Eva Illouz, Ann Swidler, Francesca Cancian, and Anthony Giddens.
“Vexed by Vaccination Refusals,” by Caty Taborda. Research on distrust of science and vaccinations, as well as network ties that spread medical knowledge—and sometimes skew it along the way.
“The New Yorker: Champion of Serious Sociology,” by Doug Hartmann. Admiring the work of Kelefa Sanneh, Jill Lepore, and Adam Gopnik, who are all bringing sociology’s big ideas to the Big Apple.
“Amy Schalet on In-Depth Interviews,” with Kyle Green. A leading sociologist on the methodology behind a time-consuming, but very rewarding, research technique.
“Books Behind Bars: College Courses in Prisons,” by Neeraj Rajasekar. Using reading for rehabilitation.
“Could Porn Lead to Sex Trafficking?” by Caty Taborda. One researcher argues a correlation between consumption of pornography and demand for sex trafficking.
“The Anti-Vaxxer Vote,” by Caty Taborda. Does vaccination refusal break along party lines?
“Cheats in Cleats,” by Sarah Catherine Billups. When sports scandals break, are they amplified by public notions of sport as an almost sacred space?
“Workplaces May Create Inequalities at Home,” by Caty Taborda. Bringing work home has more than one meaning.
“Valentine’s Day Fact Sheet on Healthy Sex,” by Adina Nack.
“Schools Adopting Digital Tools Without Evidence that They Boost Student Achievement,” by Patricia Burch, Annalee Good, Caroly J. Heinrich, and Chandi Wagner.
A Few from the Community Pages:
We sociologists tend to have a chip on our shoulder. We tend to think—not without substantial evidence, of course—that our research and ideas are not particularly visible or influential in the public realm, both in general and especially in comparison to our social science cousins. Maybe we should all be reading The New Yorker. It seems like we’ve got a few champions over there.
Exhibit A: A few weeks back, for example, the magazine ran an intriguing and insightful profile of Howie Becker. This was not a fluff piece. Inspired by Becker’s current popularity among a certain set of French sociologists in Paris (where the 86-year-old Becker now spends a great deal of his time), Adam Gopnik’s* article thoughtfully walks readers through Becker’s intellectual career and distinctive way of thinking about deviance, culture, and collective activity. This wonderfully written piece serves, I think, not only to introduce a broad, general audience of readers to one of the truly iconic (and iconoclastic) figures in sociology and his uniquely sociological worldview. More than this, it frames and situates Becker’s work in the broader history and current debates of the field in a subtle, sophisticated way that I believe proves provocative and edifying no matter how much we may already know and think about the discipline and Becker’s contributions to it. (For you insiders: Becker directs a zinger or two at Pierre Bourdieu along the way.)
Exhibit B: Last May, a review of recent books on office design by Jill Lepore was framed around a discussion of C. Wright Mills’s classic 1951 study White Collar. Although ostensibly about new studies of the new trends in office work, this review, at least in my reading, seems more fascinated with and driven by what Mills and his sociological perspective contribute to our understanding of life and work and contemporary work culture than anything written recently from more specialized scholars and fields.
Exhibit C: The latest example comes in this week’s issue, which carries a review of Orlando Patterson’s new edited volume (with Ethan Fosse, Harvard University Press) on race and culture by Kelefa Sanneh. (Special thanks to TSP board member Jack Delehanty for calling my attention to it, even before my copy of the magazine arrived in the mail. Yes, I still read the magazine the old-fashioned way.) It’s a typically well-written piece that lays out a hot sociological debate in language that is accessible to a wide range of people and without pulling any punches.Sanneh starts by laying out how structuralists (a term he uses to describe the vast majority of sociologists who generally explain the problems of black poverty and inequality in terms of institutional discrimination and systemic racism) and culturalists (who, like Patterson, see merit in the idea that elements of black culture play a significant role in the perpetuation of racial disparities today) might understand the events of Ferguson and Staten Island differently. Sanneh then explains many problems with the culturalist approach, drawing on lots of other sociologists to bring in evidence of the structural problems that underlie the culturalists’ claims, and then nailing them with this uppercut: “Among Patterson, Fosse, and their peers, the tendency to write as if black culture were in exceptional crisis seems to be what a sociologist might call an unexamined injunctive norm: a shared prescriptive rule, one so ingrained that even its followers don’t realize it exists.” Whatever you may think of Patterson and his colleagues and whether you work in this area or not, this is serious sociology, deeply knowledgable about essential, ongoing debates in the field and how these matter for the most pressing, public issues of the day.
I don’t know who exactly is responsible for this attention, specifically if someone or groups of someones in our discipline is in the ear of the New Yorker editorial staff or what. (I’ve got my suspicions.) But I love the love for sociology.
Let me close with one of my favorite such pieces. It was published two years back in January of 2013 on the topic “how cities can be ‘climate-proofed’.” This piece didn’t actually have as much explicit sociology in it as some of those I’ve referenced above. But it was written by a sociologist. NYU’s Eric Klinenberg was called upon not just to review the sociological research contributions on the topic, but also—and more importantly— to provide a broad, cross-disciplinary synthesis and assessment of what is known about climate change and urban design, and then to draw out the implications and applications for future design and policy. That, in my view, was and is sociological thought at its biggest, broadest, and finest. It is what we sociologists—with our big theoretical visions, our critical thinking, our empirical grounding, and our technical skills—are uniquely positioned to offer to public policy and public debate. Keep it coming, The New Yorker, keep it coming.
*Our associate editor, Letta Page, is convinced that Gopnik writes the best concluding sentences in the business. His book Angels and Ages makes her list of books social scientists should read to improve their own writing.