blogs @ everyday sociology

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Race and a Political Race (w/Dwanna Robertson) / Sociology of Music / Shopping and Crowds / Pokémoning while Black (w/Angelique Harris) / Women, Gaming & Violence / Bananas, Nessy, The Secret & Social Theory / Sports and Representations of Gender & Race / Steubenville Meets the 24 Hour News Cycle / The Sociology of Pranks / ‘Hey Miss,’ and How not to Talk to your Instructors / Rachel Jeantel, Handwriting, and No Child Left Behind / Six Benches: Public Space and College Town Life / Sacred Lines and Symbols: A journey through Japan / To ‘Commit Sociology’ / A Sociologist Visits Occupy Wall Street / Educational Inequality: From grade school to graduation / White Privilege and Orange is the New Black / Minor Issues with Your Major / Big Corporations and Big Social Problems / Sketches in Qualitative Sociology / The Sociology of Harassment / Football and the Performance of Race / Gentrification in Spike Lee’s Old Neighborhood / Drafts and Objectification / What to Study? Bingo vs Monopoly / Notetaking and the Digital Divide / Sincerely Held Beliefs, the Law, & Non Believers / Good Crowds“Where are You From?” Immigration, Identity, and Being a “True American” / #Pinktax and #Genderpricing: Gender in the Checkout Aisle / Social Media: Mirrors, Windows, & Bubbles / Poverty Education and Tourism / Connecting Across Race / Debates and Pierre Bourdieu / Safety Pins and Being an Ally / Habermas is on Twitter / The Lottery as Gift: Who wins? / The Dead White Guys of Theory? / Ten Sociological Metaphors and Paradoxes / Sociology, Science, and Fake News / Summer Sci-Fi and Social Media Segregation / The Brumble / Water and the Tragedy of Extra Credit / Masculinity So Fragile / Challenging Your Confirmation Bias: Ways to widen your perspective / Making Your Home Among Strangers / Creativity and Sociology / The Uses of Outrage / Get Out and Du Bois: Sociology at the cinema

How to Search

tech

Can you answer this question: “What’s the phone number of the office where this picture was snapped?”

I am, without a doubt, teaching my students these tricks on how to search. You think you know how to search for information? Take it from Daniel Russell, a research scientist at Google. Amazing stuff. Good for students. Good for sociologists too.

To find information on where (as in ‘what office’) this picture was taken, go here.

my afternoon at occupy wall street

cities

I went down to Zuccotti Park yesterday. Certainly out of a political and intellectual interest, but also because we were talking about networks, organization and then capitalism and the economy, and the protests came up in my Intro class. I don’t know if I learned enough to say something meaningful, or dramatic, or particularly enlightened. But if this is coming up in your class, maybe you’ll find what I saw slightly interesting.

map of zuccotti park

I was as interested in the people who were there, as I was about the people who were there who wanted to come down to see what was going on. There were taped off walkways, so that people–protesters and gawkers–could mill about the encampment. There was a lot of protest voyeurism. Police were polite and respectful. I saw a lot of people chatting with the cops, long-term encampers and passersby alike. There was a lot of what I expected: disaffected kids with tattoos on their faces, with homeless men mixed in; dozens and dozens of signs scrawled on pizza boxes; drum circles. Quite a few dogs which, along with the decision to put a tattoo on your face–is a marker of some sort of longer term commitment against mainstream society (I’d have to look that sort of thing up). But there was a lot that I was surprised at as well. There was a good amount of organization too.

As I walked around, I kept bumping into people with trash bags who were constantly monitoring the granite floor for debris, talking to people who were lying on the dozens of sleeping bags to see if they needed any water. There was a medical facility, whose workers had red taped crosses on their shoulders. There was an elaborate kitchen area, with volunteers furiously washing dishes in makeshift tubs with clean gloves. There was a media tent with a large TV and internet hookup. Whenever somebody wanted to talk, they had a forum to do so. Walking around the Western edge of the park, a man next to me yelled out “Mic Check!” and three people responded: “Mic Check!” He said it a second time, and ten people responded, and then he had gained the size audience he wanted, and began talking about how he wanted everyone to continue respecting the conditions of the park. I spoke with a young man who had traveled from Florida, wanting to be at the encampment to give voice to the people in his hometown.

I walked back north to an area that was called the General Assembly (I’m sure you’ve read about it in the news), and charismatic philosopher Slovoj Zizek was conducting a teach in. Because the protesters cannot use amplification system, the GA has an echoing format for discourse: The speaker will say something in short bursts, so that his/her words can be repeated out to people outside of the initial speaker’s earshot, twice. Zizek talked about capitalism, as you would expect: “They say that you are dreamers (They say that you are dreamers… They say that you are dreamers), The true dreamers are those who think (The true dreamers are those who think… The true dreamers are those who think), things can go on indefinitely the way that they are (things can go on indefinitely the way that they are)…” But he also issued a warning to the audience: “Don’t fall in love with yourselves… Carnivals come cheap.” See some of it here. There was a clear divide between the more rough-looking youth in the western part of the park who were camping out on cardboard and playing in the drum circle, and the lefty grad student crowd who had gathered to hear Zizek. I asked one kid what he thought of a world renowned philosopher coming to speak at the park, and if he was interested. He told me, he had “zero interest.” “People come, people go. Cameras come and go. I’ve never heard of him anyways.” You can perhaps notice the different crowd by my cellphone pictures…

I walked back north to an area that was called the General Assembly (I’m sure you’ve read about it in the news), and charismatic philosopher Slovoj Zizek was conducting a teach in. Because the protesters cannot use amplification system, the GA has an echoing format for discourse: The speaker will say something in short bursts, so that his/her words can be repeated out to people outside of the initial speaker’s earshot, twice. Zizek talked about capitalism, as you would expect: “They say that you are dreamers (They say that you are dreamers… They say that you are dreamers), The true dreamers are those who think (The true dreamers are those who think… The true dreamers are those who think), things can go on indefinitely the way that they are (things can go on indefinitely the way that they are)…” But he also issued a warning to the audience: “Don’t fall in love with yourselves… Carnivals come cheap.” See some of it here. There was a clear divide between the more rough-looking youth in the western part of the park who were camping out on cardboard and playing in the drum circle, and the lefty grad student crowd who had gathered to hear Zizek. I asked one kid what he thought of a world renowned philosopher coming to speak at the park, and if he was interested. He told me, he had “zero interest.” “People come, people go. Cameras come and go. I’ve never heard of him anyways.” You can perhaps notice the different crowd by my cellphone pictures…

Oh, and it’s an amazing media circus. If you look at a person with a cameraman in tow, you’ll be asked for an interview. Across the street, a couple of sociology friends and I were talking about not wanting to speak to anyone, for fear of being edited into incoherence, being balanced by the responsibility to say something positive about the protests… Linking to something in Bourdieu’s On Television, wherein the strict anti-public intellectual wrote of the mistake of believing you know something about everything yet feeling compelled to say something. During the conversation a man from the BBC approached our group and asked for an interview to compare the OWS protest and the Tea Party. Zizek talked about that connection too.

murder ballads

culture

In my background research on folk music, and related to my interest in developing a ‘American Culture’ class that focuses on Massachusetts history and culture, I came across this fascinating article by Peter Drier on the Kingston Trio, and the song, ‘M.T.A.’ In my reading, I’ve been interested in the folk community’ crankiness about the Kingston Trio as too commercial and too apolitical: Their big hit was a murder ballad (‘Tom Dooley‘), a classic trope in folk music, which would be hard to pull off these days, by a ‘popular’ band, I imagine… Less related: I also had the not altogether novel realization of how in touch with American songwriting Kurt Cobain was. Nirvana’s ‘In the Pines,’ is a changeup of ‘Where did you sleep last night?’ which was sung by Leadbelly, and one of their bigger songs was ‘Polly,’ which is an adaptation of a traditional (which is perhaps a redundancy in terms) murder ballad, sung here by Dock Boggs.

your brain on cities

cities

As a kind of modern update on Simmel, researchers have found that people get pretty negative side effects to living in cities. Simmel had some good news, I suppose. But scientists have found that the amygdala kinda freaks out, and increases the chances of stimulating the anxiety and danger-alertness of city dwellers. The diversity of the results, however, are perhaps the most interesting:

In an accompanying commentary in Nature, Dr Daniel Kennedy and Prof Ralph Adolphs, both at the California Institute of Technology, said that there are wide variations in a people’s preferences for, and ability to cope with, city life.

“Some thrive in New York city; others would happily swap it for a desert island. Psychologists have found that a substantial factor accounting for this variability is the perceived degree of control that people have over their daily lives. Social threat, lack of control and subordination are all likely candidates for mediating the stressful effects of city life, and probably account for much of the individual differences.”

 

the history of the corporation

101, culture

I love the documentary, The Corporation. Here‘s an interesting economics lesson on the rise of corporations, and the (author’s) projected decline of their power on our culture, particularly, mastery of our attention and the amount of ‘free agents’ who offer attention-grabbing content. Interesting, even if I didn’t get it all.

Rise and Fall of Corporate influence

mapping interactions

cities, culture, tech

 

Do regional boundaries defined by governments respect the more natural ways that people interact across space? This paper proposes a novel, fine-grained approach to regional delineation, based on analyzing networks of billions of individual human transactions. Given a geographical area and some measure of the strength of links between its inhabitants, we show how to partition the area into smaller, non-overlapping regions while minimizing the disruption to each person’s links. We tested our method on the largest non-Internet human network, inferred from a large telecommunications database in Great Britain. Our partitioning algorithm yields geographically cohesive regions that correspond remarkably well with administrative regions, while unveiling unexpected spatial structures that had previously only been hypothesized in the literature. We also quantify the effects of partitioning, showing for instance that the effects of a possible secession of Wales from Great Britain would be twice as disruptive for the human network than that of Scotland.
Carlo Ratti, Stanislav Sobolevsky, Francesco Calabrese, Clio Andris, Jonathan Reades, Mauro Martino, Rob Claxton, Steven H Strogatz – PLoS ONE, 2010

Download PDF

Also:

http://www.pnas.org/content/107/52/22436

We investigate the extent to which social ties between people can be inferred from co-occurrence in time and space: Given that two people have been in approximately the same geographic locale at approximately the same time, on multiple occasions, how likely are they to know each other? Furthermore, how does this likelihood depend on the spatial and temporal proximity of the co-occurrences? Such issues arise in data originating in both online and offline domains as well as settings that capture interfaces between online and offline behavior. Here we develop a framework for quantifying the answers to such questions, and we apply this framework to publicly available data from a social media site, finding that even a very small number of co-occurrences can result in a high empirical likelihood of a social tie. Our analysis uses data in which individuals engage in activities at known places and times. There are many potential sources of such data, including transaction records from cell phones, public transit systems, and credit-card providers. We use a source where analogous activities are recorded publicly and online: a large-scale dataset from the popular photo-sharing site Flickr. Most photos uploaded to Flickr include the time at which the photo was taken, as reported by a clock in the digital camera, and many photos are also geo-tagged with a latitude–longitude coordinate indicating where on Earth the photograph was taken. These geo-tags either are specified by the photographer by clicking on a map in the Flickr web site, or (increasingly) are produced by a global positioning system (GPS) receiver in the camera or cell phone. Flickr also contains a public social network, in which users specify social ties to other users.

pope

culture

The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships. This is a great opportunity, but it also requires greater attention to and awareness of possible risks. Who is my “neighbour” in this new world? Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world “other” than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting? It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2011, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales

gladwell is wrong

media, tech

"Social media can’t provide what social change has always required"

Pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell’s recent essay in The New Yorker, “Twitter, Facebook, and Social Activism,” is wrong in the way that a lot of his broad-strokes claims miss the finer points. He teases with toss away lines like: “Are people who log on to their Facebook page really the best hope for us all?” His focus is on social media’s ability to connect to strangers. But what about its ability to connect us to each other? What if it can strengthen communities, not pull them apart? My argument that it does hold this potential also runs counter to Robert Putnam’s claim: “My hunch is that meeting in an electronic forum is not the equivalent of meeting in a bowling alley–or even in a saloon.”

My current research is on how place-based communities (or just ‘communities’ in the traditional sense of the word) use social media to shape media narratives and mobilize resources in moments of crisis. It’s still a few stages from publication, but I’ll be excited to prove Gladwell wrong. The more we know about how social media works well in some communities, and not in others, the better we can address inequalities that spill over from the virtual world to the real one.

Update (1/27/11): Tweeters and commentators are directly calling out Gladwell’s thesis:

@monaeltahawy I wonder how Gladwell will feel after #jan25  #egypt and #tunisia, particularly since these were total grassroots

RT @Firas_Atraqchi da ghabi wala eih? totally disagree with Gladwell – his is an ethnocentric approach, Iran is NOT the whole MENA ..

In #Egypt 4 somethng overinflated, useless  we say “Soak it in water&drink it” = Malcolm Gladwell, social media, #Jan25 http://nyr.kr/dBIqZC

Some1 tell Malcolm Gladwell to eat this: #Twitter, #Facebook, and social activism http://nyr.kr/dBIqZC #Jan25 #Egypt

@sandmonkey: This is becoming the region first telecommunication civil war. Our internet & smart phones are weapons they won’t allow us to have. #jan25

(Thanks to PI for the tips.)

the secret about the secret

101

Like many teachers, perhaps, I have found that one of my least favorite things is one of my favorite things to talk about in class. In this case, The Secret, a trumped up argument for the Law of Attraction (LoA). The foundation of LoA is that you attract good and ill to yourself, by what you radiate out into the world. This hyper-individualized thinking is the opposite of how most serious people look at the social world: Big, social forces like sexism and racism are always at work, somehow. If you are not a sociologist and read this blurb, I’ll say this: The secret of the Secret is that it blinds you to the deep, hidden social structures at work. I find it particularly appalling that an African-American woman like Oprah would offer such full-throated endorsements of LoA. One of the charlatans in this video (the opening ten minutes is available online) claims that a hurricane was diverted because of all the positive vibes pumped out by his local radio listeners. See it here:

What do you have to say to the folks further up the coastline? What of a Glass ceiling? The Secret blames individuals for their failings–Have you been turned away from a job based on your skin color? Perhaps you are to blame!–and offers a battery of books and self-help lectures as the cure. One of the people behind The Secret is back with a #1 best-seller, The Power. Ugh. Kelefa Sanneh reviews it here.

back to school

academica, pedagogy

Every semester, I try to begin a class with a bit of wisdom for the students on the process of learning (I’ve blogged about this before, I suppose). It seems like a modest goal. I talk about note taking (the Cornell Note taking Method), how to be an active reader, how to rehearse knowledge, and what are a few good writing habits that I hope will stick. A New York Times article reviews the research on study habits debunks common wisdom and isolates a few good tips:

[M]any study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room.

And…

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time.

‘the web is dead, long live the internet’

media, tech

You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad — that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times — three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service. You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone.