Okay, so we’re not in the habit of quoting facts from the mainstream media nor, for that matter, of trumpeting the work of economists (who already have a pretty solid status in the media, at least as far as social science disciplines go), but the Dec. 5th issue of Newsweek published some facts about work in the United States that seemed important for folks who believe the American work ethic is a thing of the past. These include:
Americans have the fewest guaranteed vacation days and holidays of any major industrialized country;
Americans work more weeks per year than any industrialized country except Japan;
Americans workers work more hours per year on average than workers in any other Western nation;
And the productivity of American workers is top notch–second to none on many important measures.
Published under the title “Who You Calling Lazy?”, these were culled from a report recently published by the Economic Policy Institute. Perhaps the more general lesson here is that important information comes in all forms and formats—and anything we can do to help get it out there is part of our mission.
Because our department always seems to be celebrating something, Dean Jim Parente often asks, “What manner of Bacchanalia goes on in Sociology this week?” Well, it wasn’t exactly bacchanalia (that’s Izze’s sparkling clementine juice, I’ll have you know), but the denizens of the society pages enjoyed a fine party Wednesday at Wing Young Huie’s supercool gallery, The Third Place. It was the perfect space and moment to thank our friends, commemorate our final Minnesota issue of Contextsmagazine, and to begin turning the (society) page.
We were honored to feature a sampling of Wing’s photographs in our final issue, which nicely punctuates a line tracing the sociological imagination of great artists, social entrepreneurs, and cultural observers — Sebastião Salgado’s photography; the art of Anne Taintor and Harvey Pekar; and, the wit and wisdom of rock critic Chuck Klosterman, humorist Dylan Brody, and magazine entrepreneur Eric Utne. Editing Contexts was always intellectually stimulating, but it was positively thrilling to engage such work with the sociological enterprise.
As for the party, we had a great turnout, tons of fun, and a fitting tribute to a project that brought together so many good people in so many capacities the past few years.* Doug, Letta, and I feel humbled and grateful to have worked with so many brilliant contributors and colleagues at Contexts, the American Sociological Association, and around the world. We only wish we had the budget to fly you to beautiful Minnesota for an enjoyably brisk winter’s night. As you can probably guess, though, it won’t be too long at all before we’ll have another big announcement, celebration, and (yes) some measure of bacchanalia to share with the new TSP crew. Just drop us a line if you’d like an invite.
*If you squint real hard you can see folks like Linda Henneman of ThinkDesign (who did amazing work putting our pages together); national board members and contributors like Monte Bute and Andrew Lindner; undergrad students like Sweet Al Casey; grad board alums such as Wes Longhofer, Hollie Nyseth, Suzy McElrath, Jesse Wozniak, Sarah Shannon, Kyle Green, and Kia Heise; good university friends like Elizabeth Boyle, Rachel Schurman, Michael Goldman, Teresa Swartz, Ann Miller, Alex Rothman, Ann Meier, and Mary Drew; and, plenty of family and friends, including Harper Inea, 2051-2054 Contexts editor.
Because I am sure he would never do it himself, I wanted to take a moment and call attention to an award that my co-editor, colleague, and great friend Chris Uggen is going to receive tonite. It is the “Equal Justice” award from the Minnesota Council on Crime and Justice.(See the formal announcement below.)
The Council is a great organization that works hard to address disparities in treatment. In the past they’ve given award to folks like MN supreme court justice Alan Page. Suffice to say, this is fine company and a real honor for Chris–and it reminds me once again of his commitment to engaged scholarship as well as what a privilege and pleasure it is for me to work with him.
This Thursday!Council on Crime and Justice
54th Anniversary Celebration
Cowles Center for Performing Arts
528 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55403
December 1st, 2011
6:00pm – 9:00pm
This year we’ll be honoring our
2011 Equal Justice Award Recipients:
Equal Justice Award in Advocacy
Minneapolis City Council Member
Equal Justice Award in Research
U of M Sociology Department Chair
Equal Justice Award in Demonstration
In memory of C. Paul Jones
Enjoy an evening of celebration with community leaders and elected officials and stay for a Taiko Drum performance by
Mu Performing Arts, complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a silent auction with many great items to benefit the
Council on Crime and Justice.
Like many, I’m on all kinds of email lists and list servs for academic publishing. Usually I don’t pay them much attention. But the one below caught my eye for reasons that will probably be obvious: a public anthropology series being promoted by the University of California Press (the publisher of the first decade of Contexts) that includes an award-winning book by Paul Farmer (the subject of Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains which I use every time I teach Senior Projects). Anyway, I’m not trying advocate for the series or anything (I don’t even know anything else about what I’ve just read here), but thought folks would be interested to know the kind of public engagement being encouraged in other, related social science fields. All of the necessary information and places to find more are listed below.
Based on a decade of success, the California Series in Public Anthropology’s International Competition is initiating a new competition for 2012 that emphasizes short books for undergraduates focused on how social scientists are successfully facilitating change. We are looking for accessible, grounded accounts that present compelling stories as well as offer enough interpretation to make these books useful in undergraduate courses.
The books should be relatively short – around 100 pages – with a personal touch that captures the lives of people. They should convey how social scientists have brought (or are bringing) about change. The core of the books will be stories of social scientists as change agents, as making a difference in the world.The books should involve stories that inspire.
such book proposals independent of whether the manuscripts themselves have been completed. The proposals can describe work the author wishes to undertake in the near future.
Interested individuals should submit a 3-4,000 word overview of their proposed manuscript detailing (a) the problem addressed as well as (b) a summary of what each chapter covers. The proposal should be written in a manner that non-academic readers find interesting and thought-provoking.
DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS IS MARCH 1, 2012 Submissions should be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the relevant material enclosed as attachments.
Academics feel narcissistic or anti-intellectual when we check citations to our work, but it isn’t just an ego thing. Citations tell us who is using our research and who we should be reading — a big help in making intellectual connections. If we really want people to read the work we spend so much time writing, then we need to figure out why some articles rise and others (ahem) drop from cite. Analysis can also reveal correctable mistakes. We may have written the right paper for the wrong audience or used a title or abstract that all but guaranteed our work would never be read or referenced.
I ran the numbers, but never looked much at citation indexes until seeing Google Scholar, which tends to be more inclusive and useful than other indexes. Editing TheSocietyPages.org, though, I’m starting to think we need new ways of measuring both scholarly and public impact. For example, I’m convinced that Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp are having an enormous impact at Sociological Images, but it isn’t (yet) counted in ways that make sense to the Social Science Citation Index or Google Scholar. I’m not just talking about hit counts—increasingly, students and other scholars are adopting the site’s sensibility and and its application to the visual social world.
For now, though, Google Scholar represents a huge advance over the sort of citation trackers we had just a few years ago. Seeing Philip Cohen’s google scholar profile this morning, I made my own. A few observations:
1. Scale. Before constructing such a profile, you should know that some people and papers get cited a lot, but it takes most of us a few years to develop an audience. Nobody cited my stuff at all as an assistant professor, but folks began excavating the nuggets once a few pieces got a little attention. In Google, as elsewhere, try not to compare yourself against the standard set by the top senior scholars in your field (a.k.a. “Sampson Envy”).
2. Inclusiveness. Google scholar is indeed more inclusive than other sources. For me, at least, it includes three times the citations and twice the number of writings than SSCI (2,578 citations in Google to 84 “things” (articles, chapters, grant reports, committee documents) and 767 citations in SSCI to 35 journal articles). Some may find it overinclusive, but Google seems far more effective in bringing to light intriguing intellectual connections. For instance, I learned that a Swedish economist found use for one of my papers in a presentation on the “entrepreneurial life course of men and women”—which jazzed up my own thinking about a project on entrepreneurship and prisoner reentry.
3. Bias? For me, at least, the Social Sciences Citation Index seems to give a pretty misleading picture of scholarly impact. Since SSCI doesn’t count books or book chapters, it misses a couple more-cited pieces—a book with Jeff Manza and a popular chapter in an edited volume. [Junior scholars are often told to avoid writing book chapters, but some of them seem to find a pretty good audience.] Also, when I rank the articles by citation count, Google seems to have better face validity — it does a better job picking up the contributions that people ask me about than SSCI. As chair in a department that values both books and articles, the omission of books in any index is really problematic. I haven’t done a careful analysis, but my sense is that Google Scholar is also better than SSCI at tracking my criminological and interdisciplinary work.
4. Flagships. But still …. articles in the so-called sociology flagships get cited way more often than articles in other journals or book chapters. By either index, my 3 most-cited pieces (and 6 of the top 16) appeared in American Sociological Review or American Journal of Sociology.
5. Future. I expect that people will always want to assess the scholarly and public impact of academic work, and that these tools will evolve rapidly. Google Scholar offers a great set of tools already, but I suspect we’ll soon be able to run much more sophisticated searches that allow us to track impact across a broader spectrum of outlets. People are sure to debate “what counts” as a citation, but the really big honkin’ question concerns “what counts” as scholarly publication. My sense is that journal impact will remain important, but we’ll soon have the tools to identify and assess a more robust and varied set of impacts. And that’s a good thing for pages like these.
One of our most popular, regular features here at TSP is the “Citings & Sightings” section in which we track media references to sociology, sociologists, and social science more generally. Though it is fun to create and serves an obvious cheerleading function, the impetus behind the feature is not mere disciplinary hubris. Instead, we see Citings & Sightings as a way to help us and our fellow travelers better understand how sociology and social science are understood by others–what the public looks for and expects when they think about the world around them and our contributions to it. In the iteration of this idea we created for Contextswhen we were editors of that fine journal (I can use the past tense, since our final issue ships tomorrow!), we borrowed a phrase from the symbolic interactionists for a title: “Reflected Appraisals”–or, as our tag line put it: “We perceive ourselves as we believe others perceive us.”
Of course, in order for us to have Citings & Sightings material, social scientists will have to keep talking to reporters and commenting on timely, public issues. Working with the media like this can be enlightening, but it is not always the easiest or most comfortable exercise. As a sociologist often interviewed on issues related to sports and popular culture, I’ve found this week unusually busy… and nerve-wracking.
It started, innocently enough, with a piece that appeared in one of the major local papers (yes, we have two, one on each side of the river) about the cultural and social effects of having so many unsuccessful sports teams and franchises in the Twin Cities market. (Even Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s been known to get in on the Twins-bashing.) Anyhow, I gave my standard responses, tailored as much as I could to the immediate context. I talked about how following a losing team can and often does negatively impact sports fans–and, moreover, how those who have this reaction are often celebrated (or celebrate themselves) as “true fans,” while others are denigrated as fair-weather or band wagon fans. Then I went on to try to defend the latter group a bit, suggesting that their response might actually reflect the fact that they have a pretty good perspective on sports–that while they are happy to celebrate victories, they simply refuse to let the losses bring them down. The finished product focused on these later comments, especially one quote in which I formulated this point specifically with respect to Minnesota fans. The reporter (or, more likely, his editors) even created a sort of side bar to call attention to this portion of our conversation.
The interview itself actually didn’t seem like that big of a deal at the time (I actually took the call between sessions at the national Sociology of Sport meetings that were here in town last weekend), and I even missed the piece when it appeared in the paper on Wednesday morning. But others didn’t. I was asked about it in the coffee shop I use as my satellite office and writing station, and then again when I went to my church choir rehearsal that evening. I don’t know exactly what folks thought about my comments or how they were portrayed (there were several jokes, including one about my apparent ignorance of the recent and decisive Minnesota Lynx WNBA championship), but they definitely saw the piece and at least a few of them were thinking and talking about the topic.
I often try to use such opportunities not only to answer questions, but make bigger points and offer more critical insights about sport and society. And once in a while, there are sports stories and issues that really demand and require it. I certainly felt that way when the rest of my media calls started coming in last week. These ones were about the whole ugly saga unfolding at Penn State.
Thursday morning, I appeared on Kerri Miller’s talk show Midmorning on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) to comment on Joe Paterno’s firing in the wake of sexual abuse revelations at Penn State. Miller’s producer wanted me to specifically comment on the student response: I said the rioting was uninterested and uniformed, denial at best (and that’s being charitable). And I tried to use the opportunity also to talk about the paradoxical, contradictory place of sport in American culture: how, on the one hand, sports enthusiasts often justify their passions and obsessions on the grounds that sport occupies a higher place; and then, how quickly these same folks can set aside or dismiss social issues that come up in the world of sport on the grounds that it’s “just a game” and shouldn’t be taken so seriously. If ever there was a great example of this, it is Penn State and Paterno. I mean, the whole institutional reputation and legacy was built not only on the fact that Penn State football had a winning tradition, but also on the claims that Paterno led a program that did all this the “right way.” That is, Paterno and his team recruited athletes of high character and integrity, pushed them to become better on and off the field, graduated them at unparalleled rates, etc. All of this, along with the personal ties Penn State fans feel to “JoePa” and to the football program, means that a lot of people are feeling overwhelmed and unable to even talk about this awful situation.
Obviously I didn’t get to say all of that or take any of the tangents that might be sociologically productive in a mere 15 minutes that included several call-ins and a promo or two for next week’s shows. Nerve-wracking to be sure–and rushed as well. But hopefully I was able to contribute some perspective on an episode that so many are struggling to make sense of and live with. I’m not sure if I should follow this up, or how. Certainly, I’ll continue to follow the case, and I let Miller’s producers know I’d be willing to participate in an extended, followup (though obviously that is not my decision). Perhaps I should write something of my own or undertake a study of what is going on. (Maybe I should just keep my head down and focus on the book project that has been the focus of so much of my time and energy this fall.) But even if I don’t take the initiative myself, I will continue to make myself available to speak when called upon. This, after all, is what public engagement is all about. I mean, how can we complain about the lack of social scientific information and perspective in the public sphere if we don’t at least answer when called upon. Of course, I also have to give Citings & Sightings some material!
I spot at least two great sociological contributions on display in this material:
(1) Weintraub’s piece highlights the importance of empirical data. In this case, it seems to clearly undercut the main neoliberal assumptions and establishment claims about the virtues of deregulation (see the chart).
(2) The reflections and critical insights from Krugman about the power and persistence of neoliberal orthodoxy–what Weintraub neatly characterizes as “a sociological analysis of hegemonic ideologies.”
The comedian Elon James White (who hosts the web series “This Week in Blackness,” writes for a number of venues including Slate and The Huffington Post, and undertakes a huge array of other endeavors) has started the “Have a Seat Movement” (http://haveaseatmovement.org/). The mission is simple and pretty amusing: to identify celebrities, scholars, pundits who speak out on public issues that they don’t know anything about or about which they don’t have any meaningful contribution to make… and then launch a collective campaign asking them to stand down.
This movement, according to its promotors, “crosses gender, class, race, and political lines” and “isn’t about ideology—it’s about common sense.” “When we tell someone to have a seat it doesn’t mean that they are bad people. It doesn’t mean that they are specifically malicious or evil. It means that on this particular issue that they are speaking on they need to stop speaking. They aren’t enlightening. They aren’t helping. They’re causing more harm than good and need to be told that. A seat is needed. They should take it.”
I’m definitely amused, and generally I think I’m with them. However, I do want to offer one caveat: while common-sense might offer a reasonable standard for advising people out of their element to sit down, I’m not quite sure if it provides an accurate compass or gauge for identifying those individuals and organizations who actually should speak up (especially when issues require certain amounts of information and expertise). That seems the harder task—and a task, moreover, that sociologists could take a more active, engaged role. Indeed I like to think that that is part of what we long tried to do with Contexts and will continue to do with The Society Pages.
Maybe, while Elon James White invites folks to nominate candidates who need to sit down and clears the decks a bit, perhaps we should begin to collect the names of those who should be encouraged to stand up. Thoughts? Suggestions? Nominees?
With the new academic year underway, we’re starting to see an upswing of scholarly blogging and commentary on the web. One sociologist who has been particularly on fire is Jeff Weintraub at the University of Pennsylvania. I recently posted a quick aside linking to his views economic theory through the lens of Karl Polanyi and Richard Posner’s recent about-on face on Keynesian economics. This followed another recent post in which Weintraub drew upon Monty Python to “explain” rational actor models. And earlier in the summer, he circulated a commentary on gender and sexuality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I found edifying, on point, and surprisingly entertaining. I don’t always agree with Weintraub’s choice of topics or conclusions (and when he posts, he often puts up more than I can read), but he is always well-informed. Andhe formulates and packages his thoughts in a rich, profound, and unrepentant social theoretical tradition.
That in mind, the post I’m highlighting today is Weintraub’s take on the recently released studies of the cost, inefficiencies, misperceptions, and outright misrepresentations of government contracts, contracting, and contractors in an age of neoliberal privatization.
Much of the piece is a repackaging of other reporting and commentary, but it’s also an important piece to call to attention. The material Weintraub gathers has a lot to say about the predictable problems and shortcomings of privatization as well as the crucial role of research, data, information, and scientific analysis and evaluation in bringing these realities to the fore. Indeed, what really caught my eye about Weintraub’s post–and, frankly, what cracked me up–was his re-appropriation of C. Wright Mills’s phrase “crackpot realism” near the end. The Mills term is, as Weintraub just wrote to me in a follow-up, “an absolutely brilliant formulation… for which the applications are, unfortunately, almost limitless.”
for a provocative meditation on the virtues of keynesian economics as rediscovered by richard posner and put into social theoretical context by jeff weintraub, see: http://jeffweintraub.blogspot.com/2011/09/richard-posner-jm-keynes-karl-polanyi.htm
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