New and Noteworthy

Board member Daniel Cueto-Villalobos covered new research from Alfredo Huante on the process of gentefication in Boyle Heights and the tensions that arise when wealthy newcomers share long-term residents’ ethnic identity, but not their class position or skin tone.

Worth a Read, Sociologically Speaking

Council on Contemporary Families’ blog featured writing from Kenneth R. Hanson on his research exploring why some people choose synthetic partners (sex dolls) over human ones.

Citings and Sightings

Episode seven of The Boston Globe’s Black News Hour featured sociologist Saida Grundy. Grundy spoke about social citizenship for Black Americans and the necessity of social change in the episode which reflected on the tenth anniversary of Travyon Martin’s killing.

Backstage with TSP

Last week we read Joseph Gusfield’s chapter “Two Genres of Sociology: A Literary Analysis of The American Occupational Structure and Tally’s Corner” together and reflected on long-form writing in sociology. As a board, we are interested in thinking about ways to incorporate more coverage of long-form sociological writing on the site since books are not always a good fit with some of our standard formats. Reading Gusfield together, we were focused on how writers in long-form have to choose an audience and decide what they can assume that audience knows about the topic at hand. This is something we think about a lot at The Society Pages: who is our imagined audience, and what do we expect them to know? We’re always trying to strike a balance between making our writing as accessible as possible, to share sociological findings with a broad public, and keeping our pieces short and engaging.

More from Our Partner and Community Pages

Truth, Memory, and Solidarity with Ukraine and A World Disappearing Before Our Eyes… from the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

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New and Noteworthy

We covered new research from Maia Cuchiarra that shows that Black low-income mothers and parenting instructors understand the purpose of parenting differently and this shapes whether or not they think it is ever appropriate to use physical discipline.

Worth a Read, Sociologically Speaking

Our partner Council on Contemporary Families’ blog posted a research summary from Dana M. Johnson and colleagues on the reasons people choose to self-manage their abortions by obtaining abortion medications online and how policy changes could help increase abortion access.

Citings and Sightings

As we gear up for another election cycle, WBUR spoke with R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy on how courting suburban voters means acknowledging the suburbs increasing racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity.

More from Our Partner and Community Pages

Swastikas in the Bathrooms and Memory Politics and Memory Solidarity: An Interview with Jelena Subotić from Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ blog

End of the journey as a dean from Dispatches from a Dean

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New and Noteworthy

After the Child Tax Credit’s historic expansion ended in December, board member Jacob Otis helps us think about what’s next reviewing research on the history of the Child Tax Credit and how it supports families.

Worth a (Look), Sociologically Speaking

Board member S Ericson writes up a data visualization from Benjamin Elbers in Socius showing trends in residential segregation over the past thirty years. Elbers shows that segregation is going down, overall, but is increasing between some racial groups.

Backstage with TSP

I had the pleasure of announcing in this week’s meeting agenda that one of our fearless leaders, Doug Hartmann, is bringing bagels to our board meeting today. (We may be happily munching away on them as you read this). One of the things we missed most about going virtual during covid was the opportunity to gather together in-person not only to get work done but also to be in community with one another. As with all things covid, we aren’t sure what’s next but we feel grateful that, for the time being, we feel safe to be together and carefully lower our masks to take bites of our bagels!

More from Our Partner and Community Pages

Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ blog spotlights student Tibisay Navarro-Mana.

Council on Contemporary Families’ blog posted writing from Naomi Lightman and Anthony Kevins, sharing their research on how family policy changes might decrease inequalities in unpaid care work.

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New and Noteworthy

Board member Daniel Cueto-Villalobos wrote up new research from Samuel Perry and colleagues that explores the relationship between White Christian nationalism and denial of anti-Black discrimination and racial injustice.

Worth a (Watch), Sociologically Speaking

Isabel Arriagada created a short and informative video that summarizes this piece from Jillian LaBranche on how the meaning of diamonds is intertwined with their place in global conflict (Just in time for Valentine’s Day <3).

Backstage with TSP

This week we reincorporated “archive pitches” into the regular business of our board meetings. With an archive pitch, board members search through the (literally) thousands of posts on our pages and find a piece that connects with a current event, news story, or something on their mind. We promote these archive pitches on the site and social media and use them as springboards for new ideas. Our archive pitches are both useful reminders of how extensive and useful our backlog is and motivation to write something new when one of us discovers that we don’t actually have anything on (insert important and timely issue).

More from Our Partner and Community Pages

Council on Contemporary Families’ blog posted a piece from Shannon Cavanaugh covering research showing that women are less likely to initiate romantic contact online but have more success when they do

For the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ (CHGS) blog Remco Ensel wrote on “The Betrayal of Anne Frank”: Genocide research in the time of mass media and Kurt Borchard explained the significance of The COPE Visitor Center in Laos

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New and Noteworthy

Board member Mason Jones wrote up research from Vicki Lens that shows that, in family law court rooms, low-income moms face expectations of what “good mothers” do that do not acknowledge the structural barriers they face when parenting.

Worth a Read, Sociologically Speaking

Board member Jake Otis rounded up social science research that places the current wave of labor strikes in context.

Backstage with TSP

This week we turned our focus to writing and will discuss the first chapter of Becker’s classic Writing for Social Scientists. It’s an excellent book and the first chapter got me thinking about vulnerability and shame in the writing process. Becker does a great job of articulating that part of what makes writing so difficult is that we have to be vulnerable. When we write we are putting ourselves out there. We worry about getting it right at TSP. We worry that maybe we aren’t quite capturing what the author meant by that phrase, or maybe we don’t really understand the complex statistical technique used in that exciting new article, so maybe we shouldn’t write about it for the site. But we do anyway, in part, because we have the advantage of being really close to why writing in spite of fear matters. We hope our writing helps bring social scientific findings to a a public that would otherwise not have access to them. Having such a lofty vision means that the stakes can feel really high at times but it also helps motivate us to work together to get words on the (digital) page.

More from Our Partner and Community Pages

Council for Contemporary Families’ blog re-posted a piece from Tyler Jamison on the skills needed to break-up a partnership with care.

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New and Noteworthy

Board member Jake Otis covered new research from Daniel Meyer and Yoona Kim that found that most noncustodial parents are actually satisfied with the child support system, especially if they know the name of a child care worker they can call with questions.

Worth a Read, Sociologically Speaking

Our Hannah Schwendeman rounded-up research on the challenges of mothering in poverty, particularly given the limitations and stigma associated with the welfare system in the United States.

Citings and Sightings

Minnesota Public Radio’s Angela Davis spoke with sociologist (and UMN alum) Amy Blackstone about why more people are choosing not to have children.

Backstage with TSP

As always, we’re working on some super-secret projects behind the scenes that we’re not quite ready to announce yet. What we can say is one of our initiatives this semester involves connecting current board members with TSP alums. We’re excited to help build connections based on shared interests and expertise. A strength of ours has always been our amazing graduate board and it is a credit to our longevity that we can now create a network that links board members past and present and across career stages!

More from Our Partner and Community Pages

Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ contributor Henning Schroeder wrote on how controversy in France demonstrates increasing European obsession with flags as nationalist symbols.

Also for CHGS, Catherine Guisan wrote about why we should all care about the shuttering of two Russian NGOS that documented human rights abuses. Meyer Weinshel wrote on Holocaust remembrance day on how the end of the Holocaust was not immediate but, rather, long and uncertain.

Judith R. Smith wrote for the Council on Contemporary Families’ blog on the often-overlooked experiences of older mothers parenting difficult adult children.

Monte Bute wrote for his blog, backstage sociologist, on how his brushes with mortality inspire him to seek new homes for his expansive book collection.

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It’s the start of a new semester here in Minnesota (where, at the time of writing, it is a balmy one degree) and we’re back to share the latest social science writing from our grad board, partner, and community pages.

New and Noteworthy

We shared writing from our own Doug Hartmann, published in the Winter 2022 issue of Footnotes, on what community-engaged research is and how it can provide meaning, and challenges, to sociologists.

Worth a (Look), Sociologically Speaking

Over at Sociological Images Evan Stewart covers the persistent drop in self-reported happiness in the General Social Survey and the potential for both policy (and personal) solutions to improve subjective well being.

Citings and Sightings

Amanda Mull interviewed sociologist Daniel Schneider, who studies precarious and unpredictable work schedules, for the Atlantic on “How Omicron is Making America’s Bad Jobs Even Worse.”

Backstage with TSP

At the request of our graduate board, this semester we’re focusing some of our meetings on writing. As both academics and folks interested in connecting scientific findings with a larger public, we wear a lot of “writing hats” at TSP. Over the course of the semester we hope that talking together about writing will help us think about our collective work at TSP, exploring how to better engage in writing as communication and writing as a collaborative process. If you have a favorite piece on sociological writing, send it our way at tsp@contexts.org.

More from our Partner and Community Pages

The Council on Contemporary Families’ blog shared Dominique C. Hill‘s writing A Black Girl’s Crown Changes the Game, exploring how her participants defined black girlhood.

Kennedy Kneller wrote for Engaging Sports on how the backyard ice rink shatters the myth of Canadian hockey as underpinned by community and collective identity.

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Image: A set of question marks lies scattered on a black surface, most are black but a few are red. Image via pixabay, Pixabay License.

The article “Community-Engaged Research: What It Is and Why It Matters” appears in the Winter 2022 issue of Footnotes published by the American Sociological Association

At least since the movement emerged in the early 2000s, I’ve been a proponent and practitioner of all things public sociology. I edited Contexts magazine from 2008 to 2011 with Chris Uggen, fellow sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, and together we built The Society Pages.org, host of the largest collection of sociology websites on the internet. I helped create a senior capstone course based on service-learning placements for undergraduate majors in sociology at Minnesota. I’ve written op-eds and collaborated with various advocates and organizations, policy initiatives, and media projects. When I was president of the Midwest Sociological Society in 2016, I chose the theme “Sociology and its Publics: The Next Generation” for meetings. But in recent years, the public-facing sociology I’ve found most intriguing and significant is community-engaged research (CER).

I learned most of what I know about CER while helping launch the American Sociological Association’s Sociology Action Network (SAN) and serving on its Advisory Board over the past few years. SAN is the initiative created by Council to help sociologists interested in community-based, pro bono work get connected with small, nonprofit organizations, agencies, projects, and initiatives looking for services, assistance, and support from professional sociologists. The driving idea was that large numbers of academic sociologists who have both the skills and the passion to contribute to concrete, on-the-ground efforts to address social problems and issues don’t always know how to get connected with appropriate organizations and groups, even those in their own communities who could benefit from their energy and expertise. It was almost like we needed a matchmaking service—a sociological Tinder—to help sociologists and organizations find each other. Indeed, one of SAN’s first projects was the creation of this service—thus, the “network” in our title.

In addition to our professional matchmaking work, SAN hosted special sessions at ASA’s Annual Meetings; worked to find and promote links and resources for community-based collaborations; and, thanks to the hard work of Carol Glasser of Minnesota State-Mankato, created an online resource page with links to webinars, best practices, and sample documents for those interested in doing this work. SAN also became the review panel for ASA’s long-standing Community Actions Research Initiative (CARI) grant program, which provides funding for sociologists who are collaborating with community organizations to address social problems.

I have learned a lot in the process. One of those lessons was about how many different organizations, programs, and community leaders dedicated to social problem-solving are out there in the world right now, and how much they need our assistance. Another was how difficult it is for a national professional organization to facilitate networking, connections, and the exchange of information at various local and regional levels. But much of what I’ve learned—from the sociologists I’ve met and worked with on and through my role on the SAN Advisory Board—is about community-engaged research itself, as a distinctive approach to research, knowledge-creation, and public engagement—what it is; who does it and how committed and skilled they are; and why it is such an important part of our discipline, its legacies, and its traditions. That’s what I’d like to share briefly with you here.

Definitions

Let me begin with the usual proviso that what we call “community-engaged research” can be defined in many different ways and often goes by several different names—community-based scholarship; participatory action research; research-practice partnerships; or collaborative social justice research. Some see it as a branch of applied sociology, others as its own distinct thing. But whatever we call it, this approach to research and sociology refers to initiatives that involve some kind of mutually beneficial collaboration among academic researchers and folks from outside of the academy who are collecting data, offering programs, or creating services that speak to the needs of specific communities and target populations on the ground.

The nature of these relationships and the kinds of contributions sociologists make to these collaborative projects vary widely. Engagement can range from consultation on vision and mission to data collection and needs-assessment using surveys, interviews, or focus groups. It can include advising on program design and policy development as well as conducting program evaluations and assessments. It also often involves some type of public or legislative advocacy or public communication (via op-eds, position papers, or formal reports). Community-based work spans the gamut of sociological methods and subfields, and can refer to policies, programs, and initiatives that are local and issue-specific, as well as those that are broader and more encompassing. Many sociologists who do this work operate at multiple levels and across a range of areas all at once.

Since I came to understand community-engaged scholarship in the context of public sociology, I find it useful to clarify the distinctions between the two as well. Public sociology, or publicly engaged sociology as I prefer to call it, refers to any sociological research, writing, and work happening outside of the academy. Among the characteristics and principles that distinguish community-based sociology from other forms of public scholarship are that it is oriented not only to the dissemination and application of general knowledge, but also to the construction of new knowledge, ideas, and approaches. In addition, the principles of relationship-building, reciprocity, and responsibility are far more “up front” and indeed imperative in this collaborative work than other, more standard forms of public engagement. And finally, community-based work can involve advocacy, but is not actually, or even necessarily, normative. Indeed, oftentimes participatory action research involves surprisingly basic and conventional social theories, data, and methodological approaches, albeit applied and adapted to unique cases and local contexts that help develop or improve programs that can make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities.

For what it is worth, the conception of public sociology that I have employed here is a bit broader than Michael Burawoy’s original definitions (Hartmann 2017) in that it includes sociology that employs instrumental as well as reflexive (or critical) knowledge—that is, it can be policy oriented or advocacy centered, or even both. The key thing for me is not what kind of sociological research and knowledge we are talking about, and not whether its politics are oriented toward reform or more radical change, or something else—only that we are talking about any and all sociology that happens outside of the academy, which is precisely what makes community-engaged research, with all of its various manifestations and forms, so compelling.

Significance

So, why should we care about this unique branch or brand of sociology? Why should those of us who don’t do community-based research ourselves be interested in any of this? There are many reasons that come to mind, and intellectual and scholarly benefits are at the top of my list.

Sociology is a discipline in need of constant reinvention and renewal. Working with concrete, community-based initiatives, organizations, and advocates provides academic sociologists with opportunities to put our theories and methods to the test—to assess how they vary in different contexts and conditions, to observe new developments in the world, and to identify underlying mechanisms and multiple modes of understanding and engaging the world. Community-engaged work helps us understand the applications and implications of our knowledge, and even develop new knowledge and theories about the social world. Even more, community-engaged work provides real-world, empirical cases from which to reflect seriously on some of the biggest and most fundamental questions of the discipline and on knowledge construction more generally: How is knowledge produced? Who produces it? How is it used? And who benefits—or doesn’t?

Working with concrete, community-based initiatives, organizations, and advocates provides academic sociologists with opportunities to put our theories and methods to the test

Community-engaged research requires us to grapple with these matters of epistemology and ontology. It forces us into needed reflection on the complexities of objectivity, positionality, and reflexivity, the constructedness of science, and the contextuality and utility of knowledge. Research that is fundamentally embedded in, and engaged with, communities also helps us to see how sociology can be complicit with power and privilege, as well as a source of social progress and change.

Framed as such, it is important to emphasize how many of the time-honored, ivory tower assumptions and conceits about our own work—our status as intellectuals and researchers and our role in the world—can be turned on their head by community-engaged research. In collaborating and coordinating with others, we realize that much of the work is not so much what we have to give (or “dole out”) to them, but rather how much we don’t know—that is, how much we sociologists have to learn from those doing the work of society right there on the ground, every day, without fanfare, recognition, or great reward.

There are practical and professional considerations here as well. CER is especially attractive to many graduate students in our discipline. For some sociology graduate students, community-based research provides a way to get started on research that can be personally rewarding, as well as lead to theses, dissertations, or other, longer-term projects. For others, it provides numerous and immediate opportunities for making good on their visions of using sociological theory and research to help solve social problems or address injustices—the very reasons many came to our field in the first place. Still other graduate students, when faced with the uncertainties of the job market and the changing nature of work in higher education, simply see better, more meaningful professional prospects in this work than elsewhere.

And it isn’t just graduate students. A large and increasingly diverse number of scholars in our field also care about this kind of work and do it regularly, even primarily. These are our colleagues, classmates, and students, our friends, and potential collaborators and coauthors. And there are more community-based researchers than those of us at elite doctoral universities with very high research activity may realize. This was one lesson I learned and a dominant theme during my time in the leadership at the Midwest Sociological Society. Action-oriented, community-based research was perhaps the most common and most meaningful kind of scholarship in which many of my colleagues at regional universities, liberal arts institutions, and community colleges were engaged. These are academic sociologists who do a lot of teaching yet are also committed to both scholarly research and giving back to their communities. In a world where time and energy are limited, community-engaged work provides an avenue to make good on all the goals, demands, and rewards of being an academic—organically and simultaneously.

Many questions about community-engaged sociology remain ahead:

  • What resources or support should ASA be developing and providing to our members interested in doing community-based work?
  • Do we need new outlets or venues, or even a journal, to better support, promote, and coordinate this work and sociologists doing this kind of work—and ultimately to bring that work closer to the center of the discipline?
  • What kinds of course work and resources are necessary to train graduate students to do this work?
  • How do we properly recognize and reward this work in our discipline and in the academy more generally when it comes to things like hiring, tenure and promotion, and merit?

Some of these questions will be addressed by other articles in this issue of Footnotes; others will remain unanswered for now. But there is no doubt in my mind that how we answer these questions—and the extent to which we support and facilitate and understand community-based research—is a crucial task for our discipline and its future.

New and Noteworthy

Matthew Valasik and Shannon E. Reid wrote a policy brief for our partner Contexts, on the unequal treatment of far rights groups under the law and the potential for gang statutes to enable intervention and prevention of far-right violence.

Worth a Read, Sociologically Speaking

Irmak Karademir Hazir offered some important findings from her study on how parents of toddler-aged children differ in their understandings of what “good feeding” is according to social class for our partner Council on Contemporary Families.

Backstage with TSP

Today we had our TSP end-of-semester celebration. We handed out our Best of 2021 awards, and a few tokens of appreciation for our hard-working board members. This party is always a nice opportunity to take a break from the flurry of last minute tasks and take a moment to connect and celebrate our collective accomplishments.

Over the next few weeks we plan to take some time away to rest, reflect, and spend time with those important to us. You’ll see us less here as we post our Best of 2021 features over at the site. We hope this time away will offer some inspiration for writing and coverage in the new year (both for us and for you, dear reader).

More from our Partner and Community Pages

Our friend and colleague Edgar Campos wrote for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ blog on Olympic Boycotts and the Politics of the Label “Genocide”

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New and Noteworthy

Michael A. Garcia, Rachel Donnelly, and Debra Umberson wrote for the Council on Contemporary Families’ blog on their recent research on racial disparities in loss of a family member and how this inequities contributes to racial disadvantage in health and well-being.

Worth a Watch, Sociologically Speaking

Today is Human Rights Day, the perfect occasion to watch this short video created by Isabel Arriagada summarizing writing from Brooke Chambers‘ on the United Nations’ role in global human rights.

Citings and Sightings

On National Public Radio’s All Things Considered host Mary Louis Kelley spoke with sociologist Gretchen Sisson on why the choice pregnant people considering adoption face is perhaps best thought of as a choice between adoption and parenting rather than a choice between abortion and parenting.

Sisson was also quoted in this Vox article that covered why adoption is not a replacement for abortion rights.

Backstage with TSP

This week for the first time we assigned a board member to write up a data visualization from Socius. In the coming weeks, we’re excited to publish this piece, offering some context for one of the short data visualizations that Socius publishes. We (along with our friends over at Soc Images) know how important and impactful seeing sociological concepts represented visually can be for readers. We are also excited that this is something we’re able to do because of Socius’ commitment to open access and creative commons licensing.

More from Our Partner and Community Pages

R Spiker and Rin Reczek wrote for Contexts on what we’ve missed about socioeconomic disparities and LGB people and what new survey data and analysis can tell us

Brian Ellison of the Black Man Project shares his photo essay on Contexts exploring African-American masculinity for young boys and men

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