So I finally had a chance to watch the Facebook-inspired, Academy Award-winning film “The Social Network.” I found it very entertaining–Jessie Eisenberg was captivating as Mark Zuckerberg and who among us regular folks doesn’t enjoy seeing some in-fighting among Ivy League elites? That said, I was also surprised and kind of disappointed not to learn more about the social desires and dynamics that Facebook is really tapping into and driven by–I mean, in addition to sex, dating, and scoring drugs. I see the irony of a bunch socially-challenged Harvard misfits producing the most successful social networking medium in the world today. But I think there is–or at least should be–more to the story than that, more to say about why people want and need to connect with one another, why this particular technology has proven so successful and valuable for doing so, and what broader lessons these fundamentally social questions have for the future of technology of/in society. In real life, as I wrote in a post a few weeks ago, Zuckerberg talks a ton about the power and promise of all things social without really filling in the details and the backstory. I guess I had thought the film might help elaboarate that just a bit. Maybe when sociologists make their move into Hollywood, we can do the remake.

Late last week, esteemed La Salle sociologist Charles A. Gallagher put pen to paper (well, fingers to keys, more likely) with an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled “Living in Fictional Land of Color-Blind America: False View of Equality Blinds Us to Remaining Issues.” We encourage you all to read Chip’s piece, and to check him out in CNN’s piece from the following day. Kudos to a sociologist in the limelight!

Our colleague, Monte Bute at Metro State University in St. Paul, is many things to us: respected sociologist, friend and supporter, blogger (https://thesocietypages.org/monte/), former Contexts’ board member, and valued opinion. He’s also a true class act, and it looks like a lot of people agree.

Today we’re delighted to point you all to Minnesota Public Radio’s wonderful piece about Monte’s approach to life, death, and bringing both into the classroom. Please do check it out at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/02/23/dying-professor-death/

And, for a little more backstage knowledge on the backstage sociologist, here’s the text of Monte’s “about” page on TheSocietyPages.org:

Monte Bute is an associate professor of sociology at Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where he has taught for the past 25 years. He is also a guest columnist on the opinion page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The title of this blog comes from a 2004 essay, “The Making of a Backstage Sociologist.” For the “Full Monte,” read that narrative and “New Tricks from an Old Dog.”

His teaching and research interests include social theory, public sociology, teaching and learning, social power, protest and social movements, and political theory.

He began teaching at Metropolitan State as an avocation in 1984, and reluctantly began graduate school rather late in life. Bute has published over 60 articles in academic journals and the popular press, and has made over 70 presentations at academic conferences and community events.

Sociologists of Minnesota (SOM) gave Monte the Distinguished Sociologist award in 2004. Bute has received Metropolitan State University’s Outstanding Teacher and Excellence in Teaching awards. He is also the recipient of awards from Minneapolis Community and Technical College, the Jobs Now Coalition, and the Job Training Partnership Association.

Bute is past president of both Sociologists of Minnesota and the National Council of State Sociological Associations (NCSSA). He has also served as editor of Sociograph, associate editor of the Sociological Imagination, and is currently on the editorial board of Contexts, a journal of the American Sociological Association. Monte has been a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.

Bute comes to both sociology and academic life by a rather circuitous route. Majoring in American studies and European humanities, he dropped out of college in 1967 and landed in Berkeley and the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

Monte then spent the next two decades on the ramparts of social change, working as a grassroots organizer and independent scholar for organizations representing the unemployed, tenants, welfare recipients, union members, and students. He served on the Governor’s Poverty Commission in 1986-87 and was the lead author of A Poverty of Opportunity: Restoring the Minnesota Dream.

Having become a social scientist by the seat of his pants, Bute adheres to Alfred Schutz’s distinction between scholarship aimed at the “expert” and scholarship directed to the “well-informed citizen.” For over 40 years Monte has been nurturing the development of well-informed citizens.

Edited on March 6, 2011 to add that the Star Tribune is joining in on the Monte-love with a photo gallery in today’s edition: http://www.startribune.com/galleries/117466018.html.

Flickr photo by San Diego Shooter

Last week it was announced that, after many years of (our) waiting and hoping, former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven had been voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. In yesterday’s local paper, Blyleven was asked about the speech he planned to make when he is officially inducted in Cooperstown, NY on July 24.

Here’s what he said:
“A Hall of Fame speech is not talking about yourself; it’s talking about the people who helped you get where you’re at right now. There are so many great people who helped me.”

We loved the response, and it is not just because Bert is a Minnesotan or because we are trying to get him to circle us on television broadcasts next season. (Blyleven does color commentary for Twins games and is known for circling fans in the crowd with his telestrator.) We loved the quote because it is so thoroughly sociological, recognizing that all of Blyleven’s accomplishments are not fully his own and in fact the result of lots of cooperation and assistance from others along the way.

NYU sociologist Dalton Conley talked about this recognition that we all stand on the shoulders of others when he did a special video chat with our intro undergrads here last spring—but he added a twist. Conley talked about how he always asks his own intro students how they had come to their academic success and being enrolled at his/their prestigious institution. His white students, Conley told us, typically talk about how hard they had worked in high school and throughout their lives; students of color, in contrast, usually tell him about all the people who had helped them along the way. Hall-of-famers in the making? Circle them, Bert!

Sociologists love all things “social,” and we use the word all the time in Contexts. We’ve used it in titles—“the good, the bad, and the social” (Fall 2010), “all politics is social” (on our cover Fall 2008), and, of course, “understanding people in their social worlds” (Contexts’ tagline). Another place the term pops up regularly these days is in media, news, and communication technologies—all of which we now call, almost without thought, “social media.”

Map of the Internet ca. 2006, via xkcd.com

A recent interview with Financial Times (FT.com), Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg illustrates. FT reports that, “In sweeping terms and with no sense of irony,” Zuckerberg will tell anyone who’ll listen:

Our goal is to make everything social.

The Internet wunderkind goes on: “If you look five years out, every industry is going to be rethought in a social way. You can remake whole industries. That’s the big thing.”

The reporter summarized their interview, writing, “Zuckerberg uses the word ‘social’ a lot, and it’s not always obvious what he means. He is not simply talking about telling your friends what you had for breakfast with a status update. To Zuckerberg, a more social world is one where nearly everything—from the web to the TV to the restaurants you choose to eat at—is informed by your stated preferences and your friends’ preferences, and equipped with technology that lets you communicate and share content with people you know. What Zuckerberg is talking about is a new way of organising and navigating information.”

From an academic standpoint, it’s easy to be critical—”social” seems to be reduced to individual choices or friendship circles, and ideas about networking and communication are so easily put into service for big business. And then there are all the complexities of what it means to socialize on an individual basis through technological means that can, themselves, be isolating.

That said, for sociologists who often complain about the lack of an informed, sociological perspective in mainstream media and public discourse, this pervasive attention to the social should be seen as an opportunity. Not just in terms of how we use social media (though obviously we are trying to do that here at TSP), but in terms of expanding conceptions of “the social” and perhaps even bringing a more socially-oriented—dare we say, sociologically-oriented?—perspective into mainstream media and public discourse. Probably won’t hurt in the classroom, either.

What makes a social science blogger or blog post unique? Too often, not enough. Social scientists who only offer up their personal opinions about the daily news end up being just another voice in the crowded echo chamber. What we need are social science bloggers who can insert real knowledge and the unique perspective of their disciplines, data, and insight into the mix.

Chris Kelty makes this point (and others) in his recent post about blogging in anthropology. Kelty also offers some great tips on how social scientific bloggers can make more meaningful, substantive contributions. We especially like Kelty’s suggestion to blog about a journal article you’ve read recently:

“Think,” he writes, “how pleased you would be if someone blogged about your research… This exercise hones two valuable skills: a) the ability to communicate what an article says and why it is important better than the article does itself and b) the ability to do so in a language and tone that flatters the author, provokes your audience to [consider social science] thought, and doesn’t take you longer than a couple of hours.”

Does this sound a little like our citings posts? Hopefully so.

Seeing a piece called “The Offensive Movie Cliche that won’t Die” on Salon.com today made me think of the academic treatment given to the subject of the “magical black man” by sociologist Matthew W. Hughey. Hughey’s August 2009 Social Problems article on the subject was discovered in the Spring 2010 issue of Contexts. You can read and discuss the discovery here, or read Hughey’s fascinating original article here.

While we’ve been scrambling to get the semester off to a good start, our colleague and recent Contexts contributor Donald Tomaskovic-Devey’s gone and written a great piece–a sort of One Thing I Know about Banks on the Huffington Post. Check it out, and we’ll be back soon!

In our role as the editors of Contexts magazine, we come across a lot of great — some might say excellent — writing. So this year, with the blessing of Contexts’ founding editor, we established the Claude S. Fischer Awards for Excellence in Contexts to recognize some of the most accessible and engaging pieces from the magazine. The nominees were hand-picked by the Minnesota graduate student board, and the winners were selected by Contexts’ editorial board, comprised of esteemed sociologists from around the world.

At Contexts’ editorial board’s annual meeting this past Monday, we had the pleasure of announcing the inaugural winners of “The Claudes.” Please join us in heaping praise on these authors, who have done so much to help bring sociological insights to the wider world, and in recalling some of the great Contexts content from 2008 and 2009.

And the winners are…

Best Feature:
Rethinking Crime and Immigration,” by Robert J. Sampson. Winter 2008.

Best Photo Essay: It’s a tie!
“Smoke Damage,” by Michael Schwalbe. Spring 2008.
Looking for a Way Home,” by Jennifer Whitney. Summer 2008.

Best Culture Review:
Peeing in Public,” by Harvey Molotch. Spring 2008.

Best Book Review:
The Most Dangerous Crime Rankings,” by Richard Rosenfeld and Janet L. Lauritsen. Winter 2008.

Best “One Thing I Know”:
Immigration’s Complexities, Assimilation’s Discontents,” by Rubén G. Rumbaut. Winter 2008.

Doug Hartmann and Chris Uggen
Doug Hartmann and Chris Uggen
In January 2008, we became the editors of Contexts, the American Sociological Association’s public outreach magazine. As part of our editorship and with support from the College of Liberal Arts here at the University of Minnesota, we launched contexts.org as an online supplement to the print publication. In the past two years, largely on the popularity of our independent bloggers and hard working graduate students, contexts.org has become one of the most prominent and vibrant sociology sites on the Internet.

As we enter the final year of our editorship of the print publication (which itself will welcome a new publishing partner in January), we have been thinking seriously about how to maintain the burgeoning web content we’ve developed over the past couple of years as well as how to enhance the mass media visibility and influence of social science more generally. To this end, we are launching the new web platform you are reading right now: The Society Pages.

The Society Pages will be an online, multidisciplinary social science project headquartered in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Initially, The Society Pages will work much like the contexts.org site has in the past. It will be a mix of Minnesota-produced content along with community blogs from around the world that we host, support, and publicize. We will also continue to host contexts.org as long as we edit the print publication (and well beyond that, if the ASA and future editors want us to continue).

Eventually, we plan to extend the scope of The Society Pages beyond sociology to encompass the full range of the social sciences. Indeed, over the course of the next year, we’ll bring some new, interdisciplinary authors and contributing authors (from Minnesota and far beyond) into the mix and begin rolling out a steady stream of new content and features. Our goal is to make The Society Pages the go-to destination for social science online. And we will use this little spot—the Editors’ Desk—to play cheerleader, project leader, and sounding board along the way.

We’re excited to get started with The Society Pages. If you’re as excited as we are about the possibilities for social science online, or if you’d just like to get your name in the society pages, let us know! Any questions? Feel free to email us at editors@thesocietypages.org. Otherwise, we hope you will make thesocietypages.org a regular stop on your Internet travels.

Chris Uggen & Doug Hartmann
Editors