The new, summer 2012 issue of Contexts magazine came out last week and we’ve got some of the best, most exciting content now at Contexts.org in our community pages section.
One is a piece from Michael Schudson on Rosa Parks. Schudson, an expert on media and communications who is known in particular for his work on collective memory, explains what we know (or think we know) about the civil rights icon and what we consistently get wrong. Trained as a sociologist, Schudson, writes a regular column on social scientific research on the media for the Columbia Journalism Review, and is a shining example and inspiration of how to write well and bring sociological insight to broader public audiences and visiblity. In fact, our podcast team interviewed him recently about the new second edition of his well-known and widely influential Sociology of News.
Also worth checking out are the sociological commentaries on the successes and failures of Obama’s first term as President. Taken as a whole, these pieces provide a rich, varied, and probably representative vision of how sociologists think about Obama and his Presidency to date—as well as fits well with the wide ranging collection of articles and exchanges on politics that have appeared in TSP in recent months. Some are predictable, others a little less orthodox. For example, Fred Block, an expert on innovation and economic develoment, says that one of the unrealized successes of the Obama administration are its achievements in funding clean energy technologies. Alejandro Portes, who works on race, ethnicity, and immigration writes about the failure to produce a new immigration policy even as unauthorized migration has dropped precipitously in recent years. Indeed, according to Portes, “the real threat at present is to American agriculture, with farmers’ organizations loudly complaining about crops rotting in the fields due to lack of migrant labor.”
And then there is Richard Lachmann’s fundamentally sociological analysis of the structural barriers that have stood in the way of the President making good on his agenda in realms ranging from health care and education to welfare and industry. What I found particularly compelling and insightful about Lachmann’s piece was his claim that success on these fronts in a second term would rely primarily on not so much on Obama’s political skills as on the administration’s ability to recognize and utilize the regulatory powers of the Presidency. I don’t know for sure that Lachmann is correct but it does give one hope if Obama is re-elected and it is certainly a fine example of the kind of institutional analysis that sociologists can contribute to our understanding of the political process.
And while I’m on the topic of TSP shout-outs: if you haven’t already, give a quick read to Phil Cohen’s “Should Every Sociologist Blog?” on FamilyInequality. A version appeared in the latest edition of the ASA’s Footnotes newsletter, and I particularly liked how Cohen compared blogging with C. Wright Mills’ famous prescription to “keep a file” in the famous appendix to his 1959 classic The Sociological Imagination, “On Intellectual Craftsmanship.”