Tag Archives: art/literature

How Many PhDs are Professors?

When I approached my undergraduate mentors about graduate school in 1996, they warned me that many people who earn PhDs never get jobs in academia.  This is sometimes deliberate, as their are jobs outside of academia for some degree-holders to get, but it’s also sometimes a grave disappointment.  My mentors emphasized the extent of the risk (and frankly scared me quite a lot), but how bad was it?  And is it worse today?

The Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissmann put together the data.  The leftmost bars on his figure show that, on average, under a quarter of PhDs landed a full-time job at a college or university in 1991.  That number had dropped to less than 20% by 2011.  The numbers, however, vary significantly by field:


See here for more details.

The looming question, of course, is what percentage of PhDs want a full-time academic job, something that certainly varies by field.  In other words, there aren’t a boatload of bitter engineers bad-mouthing the academy while slinging lattes at Starbucks.  Here’s a hint at an answer: A study published in 1999 found that 53% of all new PhDs said they wanted to become professors.  Ten years later, just over half were tenured (54%) and a handful more were tenure-track (7%); a third weren’t in academia at all.

On the one hand, I think these numbers are really depressing. Five to ten years is a long time to train for a career only to discover that, for whatever reason, you won’t be employed in the area of your expertise.  But I have two “on the other hands.”

On one other hand, I wonder how these numbers compare to other occupations?  We accept that certain occupations are highly competitive and include a lot of dumb luck and failure.  Modeling and acting are obvious examples, there are certainly others.  I know someone who’s spent their lifetime trying to become an astronaut.  Where does academia fall in the spectrum of risky job endeavors?

On a second other hand, I’d love to see some research on what happens to academics — especially in the humanities and social sciences — when they don’t get a job in academia or are denied tenure after getting there.  Within academia, this is often framed as THE END OF YOUR LIFE.  But maybe it’s often okay or pretty good.  Honestly, I don’t know.

Interesting and useful data, to be sure, but far from the whole story.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Problematics of the Fake Harlem Shake

Cross-posted at Racialicious.1The Harlem Shake is a syncopated dance form that first appeared on the New York hip-hop scene in the early 1980s.  Here is what it looks like:

In 2012 music producer Baueer created an electronic dance tune, unfortunately calling it The Harlem Shake. Baueer’s song inspired an Internet meme in which people rhythmlessly shake their upper bodies and grind their hips in a tasteless perversion of the original dance.  For example:

This fake Harlem Shake meme has become so ubiquitous that it has been “performed” by the English National Ballet, and gone further globally with a video from the Norwegian army, and in Tunisia and Egypt, where the song and imitation dance has become a protest anthem.

The irony of an African-American cultural relic being white-washed to the point where other people of color perform its bastardized version is not lost, and this takes on a whole new level as teams with majority African-American members such as the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets add to the fake Shake canon. Personally, I’ve been “video bombing” anyone I see incorrectly referring to the new version as the Harlem Shake with this:

A major problematic of this meme is that it takes an already marginalized group in America, one whose history and culture has often been appropriated and co-opted in fetishistic ways by the white majority, and makes a mockery of not just them, but an entire dance tradition.  This is not lost on residents of Harlem, many of whom recognize cultural appropriation and malrepresentation when they see it:

In spite of a number of calls online from African-American writers, artists, scholars and supporters like myself to bring attention to the real Harlem Shake, every day there is instead a new group adding to the misappropriated dance. When you Google “The Harlem Shake” you must scroll through pages before you reach any posts about the actual hip-hop tradition.

This literal erasure of black culture and its replacement with an absurdist movement and meme needs to be considered in light of African-American oppression and institutionalized racism in the United States. Supplanting the sinuous artistry of the Harlem Shake with frenetic styleless arm flailing and hip thrusting is yet another brick in a grand wall of symbolic and structural violence that further relegates an entire culture to the margins, both on and offline.

As the Harlem residents said in response to the meme: “Stop that shit.”

P.S. Here’s how to actually do the Harlem Shake. 

Sezin Koehler is a half-American half-Sri Lankan informal ethnographer and novelist living in Lighthouse Point, Florida.

Even Astrophysicists Notice Gendered AP Study Guides

This week Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted the following, along with a photograph of suspiciously gendered AP exam study guide covers:


I’m going to take this to mean that Tyson is as big a fan of sociology as I am of astrophysics.  Made my day.

Thanks to Jay Livingston for the tip!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Rise of the Dead: Dia de Los Muertos in the U.S.

Amie G. sent along a five minute documentary in which a series of artists and entrepreneurs talk about why the Day of the Dead has become so popular in parts of the United States.

While they don’t discuss issues of cultural appropriation (like at Halloween), they have some interesting things to say about why it is so appealing to a broad audience. A professor of Art History, Ray Hernández Durán, for example, traces it to the growing Latino demographic, the way media has changed, and a history of the U.S. being open to cultural influence.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Hennessy Youngman on Beauty

Hennessy Youngman kicks around the question, should art be beautiful?

If you liked, more from Youngman:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Twilight, Timing, and Baby Names

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jacob and Isabella were the most popular baby names last year.  Some observers, even some sociologists, see this as the influence of the Twilight series.  (See here for example.)

But Jacob, Isabella, and even Bella were on the rise well before Stephanie Meyer sent her similarly-named characters out to capture the hearts, minds, and naming preferences of romantic adolescents:

The forecasters predict a bumper crop soon in Rue, Cato, and perhaps other names that are from the Hunger series.  Still, since the YA (Young Adult) audience for these books and movies are more Y than A, I’m hoping for lag time of at least a few years before they start naming babies.  As I blogger earlierSplash, the film with Darryl Hannah as Madison the mermaid, came out in 1984, but it was not until nine years later that Madison surfaced in the top 100 names. And if there’s a Hogwarts effect, we’re still waiting to see it.  The trend in Harry and Harold is downward on both sides of the Atlantic, and Hermione has yet to break into the top 1000.

Don’t look for any Katnisses to be showing up in your classes for quite a while.

Vibrant Subcultures: Clown Egg Edition

Here’s a neat story that reminds us that beneath “mainstream” culture are rich, unique, and sometimes whimsical sub-cultures:

In 1946 a clown aficionado named Stan Bult began collecting the faces of clowns painted onto blown out chicken eggs.  It became a U.K. tradition and, because it is considered a great breach of etiquette to steal another clown’s face, the eggs served as  a sort of “registry.”  The tradition crossed the pond in 1979 when Leon “Buttons” McBryde began a collection in the U.S.   Linda, McBryde’s wife, paints the eggs herself (they use goose) and they’ve now collected over 700 unique clown faces.

Here are some examples from the British collection:

Clown Eggs via Learn Something Every Day.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Black Face, Racial Caricature, and Cake: Raising Awareness about “Female Genital Mutilation”?

April 15th was World Art Day.  A museum in Stockholm, the Moderna Museet, celebrated with what appears to be a chocolate and red velvet cake in the likeness of a caricature of member of a generic African tribe.  The cake was designed by an artist, Makode Aj Linde, who wanted to draw attention to the practice of female genital cutting, which occurs in parts of Africa (and elsewhere).  Accordingly, the cake was in the shape of a woman’s shoulders, breasts, belly, and genitals; it was covered in black fondant.  The head was the artist himself, painted black with cartoon-ish eyes and mouth reminiscent of American minstrelsy. Neck coils tied it all together.  
The Swedish minister of culture, Adelsohn Liljeroth, was asked to cut the cake.  Playing along with the “art,” she began at the clitoris.  After slicing herself a piece, she fed it to the artist (it’s unclear if that was planned or improvised).  Each reveler carved out more and more of the genitals, revealing brown and then red cake inside.  With each cut, the artist let out a yell and cried.  People attending the exhibit reportedly gawked and generally went along having a good time.

Kitimbwa Sabuni, a spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association, called the cake a “racist caricature of a black woman” and criticized the event, writing:

The “participation [of the minister of culture], as she laughs, drinks, and eats cake, merely adds to the insult against people who suffer from racist taunts and against women affected by circumcision.”

The minister shrugged rhetorically, saying  “Art needs to be provocative.”  On his Facebook page, the artist was nonchalant, writing about the above photo: “This is After getting my vagaga mutilated by the minister of culture…”

I will go on the record saying that this is obviously racist, trivializes genital cutting, is wildly insensitive to women who have experienced cutting, and fails to accord any respect to members of communities that practice genital cutting.  It’s a shameful mockery.


UPDATE: It occurred to me that it’s possible that the artist intended to trap a mostly white audience into participating in this obviously racist game, all with the intention of revealing that they would.  Sort of like Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, where the fictional African American tv writer, asked by his White boss to write something “Black,” wrote the most racist thing he could think of… only to discover that audiences loved it.  So perhaps the artist meant to provoke the same sort of horror that Bamboozled provokes in its real audience.  And that is provocative indeed.  But I’m guessing that this message will be lost on the vast majority of people at the same time it provides a satisfying opportunity to object to something obviously racist (as I did); meanwhile, more subtle discrimination and institutionalized racism remains un-examined.


One of my main areas of serious academic research involves trying to understand how Westerners think about female genital cutting, and what motivates them to understand it in the way they do.  I must say, though, that I am at a loss to explain this.  My research on American perceptions of the practice (not Swedish, notably) suggests that we take the practice extremely seriously, framing it as (one of) the worst human rights abuses imaginable.  From this perspective, this approach to raising awareness — from the party-atmosphere symbolized by the cake to the almost comical and obviously fake protestations from the artist/actor — takes the issue far too frivolously for comfort.

Caricaturing Africans, however, and seeing them as lesser humans is also part of what drives American condemnation of genital cutting.  U.S. discourses often frame Africans as either ignorant or cruel.  We routinely dehumanize both women and men in these discourses.  They are seen more as objects of intervention than human beings.  Accordingly, it doesn’t surprise me too much that the (mostly White, Swedish) people viewing the performance felt enough distance from the practice of genital cutting to enjoy their cake.  Nor does it surprise me to hear at least some of them dismiss the concerns of the spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association.

The video, in all its glory:

Thanks to Sharla F., Samira A., and an anonymous reader for sending in the tip to this story!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.