Author Archives: chris

Welcome Walt! Dispatches from a New Dean

waltThe bad news is that our great friend is heading out of town. The spine-crushingly good news is that Professor Walt Jacobs will now be contributing regularly to the TSP community pages, in his Dispatches from a New Dean. A sociologist and recent chair of African and African American Studies in Minnesota, Walt’s just starting a new job as the social sciences dean at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

As you might have heard in his podcast on race and comedy, Walt has a keen eye and ear for the telling detail. He’s also a terrific academic leader, who uses sociology to good advantage in organizing people and resources. In Dispatches, Walt will be sharing these experiences, showing how a good social scientist wrestles with the demands and opportunities of higher administration. I’ve never met anyone in academic administration who worked harder or with greater sensitivity to the needs and interests of a larger community. Did you hear the line about commitment and breakfast? [That is, in a bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.] Well, Walt is committed. He’s heading off to Wisconsin and, by all reports, living amongst the first-year sociology students. We’re sorry to see him go, but so happy he’s staying on TSP.

Sociological Science

creative commons photo by brad stabler

creative commons photo by brad stabler

Well, our TSP offices are buzzing about the announcement of Sociological Science, an exciting new open-access research publication. There’s a very accomplished editorial team in place, with a clear commitment to “speed, access, debate – and a light touch” — fine attributes for journal editors, as well as guitar players. To keep everything free and open-access, the project will be supported by submission and publication fees charged to authors, rather than subscription fees or association dues.

Sociological Science is distinctive in positioning itself as a rigorous peer-reviewed outlet for primary research. Our friends Jenn Lena, Brayden King, Mike3550, and many others have already offered thoughtful posts and comments. I too have loads of advice for the editors, but I suspect they’re getting enough advice already (and the really useful stuff is best conveyed off-line). Instead, I’ll just offer a few words for the new journal’s prospective authors and readers.

Try to remember that editing any sort of publication is a labor of love, since the ratio of effort to reward (however defined) is usually pretty high. I can see that the team has already invested a lot of thought and hard work  in the venture already. This is especially the case with a DIY effort, so let’s cut the new editors a little slack as they get off the ground. It is always easy to find fault with something in a publication (you call that kerning? how could the first issue completely *ignore* the Freedonian situation?), but initiatives like this are almost always undertaken with a civic-minded/public-goods orientation. I guess I do have one suggestion to pass along to the editors: celebrate each milestone, well and often!


President Obama on NSF and the Social Sciences

I’m not sure it qualifies as an actual war, but politicians such as U.S. Representative Lamar Smith and Senator Tom Coburn have certainly been firing broadsides at the National Science Foundation and social science research. So it is heartening to hear President Barack Obama single out the social sciences in his speech at the 150th anniversary meeting of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. The President pledged to protect peer review and research integrity:

With all the one of the things that I’ve tried to do over these last four years and will continue to do over the next four years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process; that not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science — all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review — but in all the sciences, we’ve got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they’re not subject to politics, that they’re not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us.  And that’s why we’ve got to keep investing in these sciences. 

And what’s true of all sciences is that in order for us to maintain our edge, we’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars.  And I will keep working to make sure that our scientific research does not fall victim to political maneuvers or agendas that in some ways would impact on the integrity of the scientific process.  That’s what’s going to maintain our standards of scientific excellence for years to come.

Some sociologists will bristle because we weren’t enumerated alongside psychology and political science, while others will surely take issue with the President’s emphasis on hypothesis testing. I’m just glad to hear such a clear statement of support for the social sciences and the integrity and independence of the NSF review process — especially in light of Representative Smith’s draft “High Quality Research Act.”

Welcoming Girl w/ Pen to TSP!

girl w pen bannerWell, the TSP headquarters are abuzz: Girl w/ Pen has arrived! Our newest Community Page, Girl w/ Pen consistently makes good on its aim of bridging feminist research and popular reality. Their interdisciplinary team of writers and editors is exceptionally accomplished and prolific, and we’ve been fans for years.

GWP is an important go-to resource for gender scholars, but its clear writing and engaging style attract a much broader general readership. Take a look at just a few recent posts: Virginia Rutter’s Nice Work column breaks down and explains a new Gender & Society piece on overwork and gender segregation; Adina Nack’s Bedside Manners column examines condom distribution in Catholic colleges; Heather Hewitt’s Global Mama takes up the future of online feminism; Susan Bailey’s Second Look considers women’s history month; and founding editor Deborah Siegel details her TEDxWindyCity project on gender in early childhood. But this really just scratches the surface—the site boasts at least a dozen regular columnists, writing such columns as Body Language, Body Politic, Girl Talk, Global Mama, Mama w/ Pen, Off the Shelf, Pop Goes Feminism, and Science Grrl.

We owe special thanks to TSP’s web editor Jon Smajda and the entire GWP team for managing the transition to The Society Pages. We’re delighted to be working together!

Social Sciences as STEM Disciplines


creative commons image by tonrulkens

Sally Hillsman of the American Sociological Association makes a strong and timely case for sociology as a “STEM” discipline in the February issue of Footnotes. Though STEM is an acronym for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,”  the social sciences have struggled to find a place at the STEM table.

In response, Professor Hillsman offers three compelling points:

1. Sociology is part of the national science community.

2. Sociology is a core part of applied science.

3. Sociology is a gateway to science for undergraduates.

Not every sociologist self-identifies as a scientist, though it is difficult for me to conceive of my research and teaching as anything but social science. Yet even friendly colleagues in the natural sciences seem surprised to learn that a sociologist like me spends time specifying and testing hypotheses, writing and reviewing National Science Foundation grants, attending the American Academy for the Advancement of Science meetings, and thinking about how my work might contribute to the systematic understanding of the (social) world.  By spreading the word about the great diversity of good work being done by our colleagues, I’d also like to think that our Society Pages project can play some role in raising the profile of the social sciences.

The most recent wave of social science legitimacy issues are likely a product of internal conflicts as well as external attacks, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. In our view, sociology offers a near-ideal setting for teaching and learning scientific thinking — the phenomena we study are immediately engaging and accessible, yet their complexity demands critical analysis and sophistication in conceptualization and method. What better setting for educating our students and publics about science?

Warm Holiday Wishes from TSP

Image by Letta Page

‘Twas the night before break and Suzy was cranking away on a TSP piece at 7:30 pm.  When the custodian chided me for “keeping Bob Cratchit working pretty late,” I was feeling my inner Scrooge. But everybody at The Society Pages seems to work hard with good cheer. Doug and I owe many thanks: to Letta Page and Jon Smajda, for making it all both possible and beautiful; to our wonderful grad board and undergrad interns (above), for wicked-good work all over the site and behind the scenes; to our friends at WW Norton and SSN, for their inspiring vision and support; to the brilliant and prolific bloggers on our community pages; to the generous scholars who review our white papers and support us in myriad ways; and to you for giving us your precious time and attention. Happy holidays to you and yours!

(R-L) Doug Hartmann, Suzy Maves McElrath, Rahsaan Mahadeo, Kia Heise, Andrew Wiebe (Fall intern), Grad Board Editor Hollie Nyseth Brehm (semi-hiding), Sarah Shannon, Erin Hoekstra, Chris Uggen, Sarah Lageson, and Kyle Green.
(not pictured) Letta Page (behind the lens), Shannon Golden, Jon Smajda, Stephen Suh, Lisa Gulya, and Evan Stewart

Demolition Derby and the Social Construction of Injury

Creative Commons Image Courtesy of WhatDaveSees

When people ask why I pursued or persist in sociology, I sometimes say that the world just makes no sense without it. With a few basic concepts, some systematic observation, and a little analysis, however, we can at least begin to fathom the unfathomable. Our new TSP feature on genocide by Hollie Nyseth Brehm offers a grim example, but my favorite physical therapist offered another illustration this weekend. She had just attended a conference on understanding pain and injury—a big part of any PT’s job—and came across some cool studies on the social construction of these phenomena.

My favorite new example is “Neck Pain in Demolition Derby Drivers” by Alexander Simotas and Timothy Shen in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. In the general population, about 10 percent of people who have a car collision will develop chronic severe neck pain. Doctors Simotas and Shen surveyed 40 demolition derby drivers, who had undergone a median of 1,632 lifetime collisions at an average estimated speed of 26 miles per hour, 55 percent of which were rear-end, with no special safety equipment. Yet only 3 of the derby participants (7.5 percent of the sample) reported even mild chronic neck pain and none reported moderate or severe chronic pain. (more…)

Design Time

Creative Commons Image courtesy of we creative people

In social science, as elsewhere, an elegant design makes all the difference. When I hear a great talk or read a first-rate article, I’m geeked up both by the new discovery and by precisely how the discovery was made.  And while I try to stay on top of the latest and greatest methodological techniques,  I most appreciate social scientists who can responsibly render the world’s complexity in a simple and comprehensible manner.

Design should never say, ‘Look at me.’ It should always say, ‘Look at this’. – David Craib (more…)

(Reading) Listomania

creative commons photo by Hans Thijs

We hope TSP’s Reading List is both an informative source for cutting-edge research and an aid in strutting your eminently informed stuff at fancy cocktail parties and on The Twitter. We’ve experimented with different writing models, but these days we’re producing reading list items collectively. It turns out to be a lot of fun to go around the room and “pitch” the best and/or coolest thing we’ve read in the past month.

I’m sometimes asked how we find the good stuff to write about. Here’s a little backstage info on how the (vegan andouille) sausage is made. (more…)

Feelin’ the Feelin’

I was delighted to read that Nick “The Feelin’” Mrozinski landed a spot on Team Cee-Lo on NBC’s “The Voice.” I was fortunate to share billing with The Feelin’ (a/k/a Nicholas David) on one of my all-time favorite research presentations a few years back.