Tag Archives: sociology

Christian Smith responds to my review of The Sacred Project

Please welcome guest blogger Christian Smith, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. His post is a reply to my review of his book, The Sacred Project of American Sociology, originally posted here. He also posted a reply to Andrew Perrin’s review over on Scatterplot today (but because that is just in the comments section, he doesn’t get the CV line “guest blogger” from that appearance). I have added a few comments of my own at the end.

Reply to Phil Cohen’s “It’s Modernity, Stupid”

by Christian Smith

When Phil Cohen’s response to my book, The Sacred Project of American Sociology, was first published on his website, various colleagues alerted me to it, but also suggested it was not worth reading, much less engaging, so lopsided and noxious they said it was. I took their advice. However, over this holiday weekend I thought for fun I might disregard their advice and read Phil’s piece.

My informants turned out to be right. Offering a point-by-point reply to Phil’s review seems fruitless, given where he and I stand. But I will venture a few general observations and leave it at that.

What is most striking about Phil’s response in general is how indeed obviously lopsided it is. If what his readers wanted was the pulling out of context of everything that could possibly be construed to seem to be the worst in a book and framing it in a most damning light, then Phil delivered, entertainingly. His “documented personal animosity” toward me clearly showed in his tone and analysis.

However, if what readers wanted was a careful, reflective, and balanced evaluation of my book, they will have to look elsewhere. Maybe or maybe not such a review will be forthcoming in an academic journal.

Phil’s is the sort of response designed to get a book dismissed early on (within 24 hours of its release in July, in my case) before it is taken seriously by too many potentially interested readers. Throw the damn thing under the bus before it causes trouble. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” is the larger genre of rhetoric to which it belongs. This may be effective ideological activism, but it doesn’t really count as a serious review.

Phil’s reaction is a lot of distraction, mostly. He casts me as an anti-modern grump who can only think anecdotally. He discusses my case as if it were just another round in the Regnerus debacle. He picks away at this and that issue with lots of cute jabs. But those are diversions from my book’s larger argument about sociology’s sacred project and its problematic consequences. The subtext is this: Keep your eye on the ball of the game that Phil wants you to be playing, and ignore Smith’s actual argument. But not everyone is distracted. “I haven’t followed this closely, but it seems like Phil’s reaction just provides more evidence substantiating your thesis,” is what one sociology colleague (a secular, politically progressive, full professor) recently emailed me.

Phil’s view is that sociology’s mission simply = “modernity, stupid.” But that reflects a convergence-toward-uniformity view of modernity inherited from 1950s-style modernization theory. It does serve the rhetorical purpose of branding anyone as anti-modern as a “vaccine denier” who may not agree with Phil’s view of the world.

Unfortunately, Phil’s view about modernity is outdated, specifically concerning the empirical fact of “multiple modernities,” that is, about the massive cultural and institutional pluralism that characterizes real modernity today across and within societies and global regions, which numerous scholars have documented and theorized. There exists an important literature on multiple modernities that Phil might wish to consult to get this point: just as there is not only one modernity, so sociology need not be dominated by one sacred project. Phil’s cloaking of that project with the mantle of an allegedly inexorable singular modernity reflects in yet another way the parochial imagination of sociology’s sacred project that his piece seems intent on defending.

One theme in my book (among many) that Phil’s response obscured is that I am not recommending that American sociology be purged of its sacred project. Most social groups have sacred projects and sociology is entitled to its own sacreds. As I say in my book, sociology would be horrendously boring without a sacred project. Furthermore, when it comes to the particular features of sociology’s sacred project, I personally embrace and endorse many of them. My argument, then, is not to eliminate sociology’s sacred project, but rather to be more honest about our sacred project and its consequences and to allow a greater pluralism of sacred projects within the discipline. That Phil understood that basic point is not at all clear.

I continue to hear reports from various kinds of sociology colleagues around the country who have read my book and say they think it is essentially right, even if they do not agree with all the details. None of them, however, will ever say that in public. Why? Fear, intimidation, self-preservation. They know there is a price to be paid for speaking their minds on these matters, so they keep quiet. American sociology, in other words, has managed to create an environment of uncoordinated self-censorship.

Is everyone okay with that? If so, then let’s be satisfied with the kind of personal-animosity-driven writings like Phil Cohen’s piece. My only request, then, is, as I wrote in my book, that we be completely honest about what is going on and ready to live with the problematic consequences.

scream-sxc924206_32902585

Reply from Philip Cohen

Four short points.

1. I didn’t say, and don’t believe, that my review was driven by any personal animosity. What I said in the original post was that, because I once used a profanity in an email to Smith, I didn’t want to get some editor in trouble if they were to publish my review and then Smith produced my email as evidence of bias. That’s why I published the review myself.

2. If my review was really just a lot of diversions, and out-of-context jabs, which obscured “many” themes from the book, then I really wonder what I missed. Where is there any actual evidence for his argument about contemporary American sociology, which is not subject to “framing … in the most damning light”? Maybe he should provide us with another appendix that clarifies which evidence we should evaluate seriously and which we should avoid lest we accidentally cherry pick anecdotes to make him look bad. The book is very short.

3. “None of them, however, will ever say that in public.” Really? Come on, o ye fearful anonymous colleagues of Christian Smith! Do you who think he is “essentially right” really plan to go through your careers without ever expressing your true opinions in public? What kind of intellectual coward does that (especially when they have tenure)? Coincidentally, this is exactly the tactic Nicholas Wade used in the other book I wrote a long review of this summer. “The less academics defend me,” they say, “the more evidence this is that I am courageous and alone in my maverick stance against the all-powerful academic establishment.” While Smith has an endowed chair at a wealthy private university — with zillions of dollars in foundation grants for his research projects — maybe the next person who agrees with his opinions will be the victim of harsh retribution and face some career-ended “price to be paid.” Or maybe this is baloney.

4. Sure, multiple modernities. However, some contemporary modernities are really postmodern pre-modernities.

Note: I tried to find the source for the screaming man image, but it’s been used too many times without attribution, going back at least to 2008, for me to figure out the source.

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ASA meeting Twitter network graph

The American Sociological Association meetings, which ended earlier this week, had a rollicking good Twitter stream. Now Marc Smith has analyzed the tweeters who used the hashtag #asa14 (and related), and their interactions, to produce network graphs of the meeting’s tweeted undercurrent. I looked through one of the graphs, which I’ll describe briefly.

Smith used NodeXL, and generated a whole gallery of graphs. Just looking in your browser is difficult because the resolution is too low to identify people, but you can download the giant Excel files he made, or use the interactive graphs which allow you to hover over points and see their handles. That’s how I figured out the following graph, which represents 18,000 tweets from Sunday and Monday, the middle of the conference (click to enlarge, but it won’t help that much). Details here, my description below.

Graph-25487The top left, G1, is the heaviest traffic. This was a lot of leftists in active discussions of Ferguson, Missouri, Mike Brown, and Alice Goffman (and her book On The Run). At the center of that mass seems to be Jessie Daniels from CUNY (who describes herself, fittingly, as an instigator), UT-Austin sociology, Conditionally Accepted, Dr. Compton, and C.J. Pascoe, among others. I can’t find the dot for Tressie McMillan Cottom (Tressiemcphd) – who has the highest betweenness centrality of any individual on the graph, and was the most frequently replied-to tweeter — but it’s probably in G1 somewhere.

Moving clockwise, the next cluster (G3) is centered around the official feed of the ASA, @ASAnews, with a lot of tweets about the conference theme, publishers and their booths, and journals.

Clockwise to G5, you get another cluster with a lot of Mike Brown and Ferguson, but this one more focused on education and academia, including Lean In. At the center of G5 is Sara Goldrick-Rab.

The top right, G6, is where I ended up. It has several lose center points, including me (familyunequal), Tina Fetner, and two people who tweeted ASA content that got picked up by a lot of non-sociologists: Mark Abraham (urbandata) and Str8Grandmother. Also up there is Karl Bakeman (my editor at Norton), the Norton sociology feed, and Contexts magazine.

Next on the far right is G10, which has a lot of critical race discussion (#troublewithwhitewomen), as well as information technology. I can’t tell the theme of G9, which includes Lisa Wade and Nathan Palmer (sociologysource).

The orange oval in G7 is centered around the Émile Durkheim feed (“Invented Sociology, and don’t let any Germans tell you otherwise”). This was probably his most popular tweet this time out, with going on 100 retweets:

durkheimcup

In fact, the graph data shows that the G7 sector basically comprises the community formed around this tweet.

The bottom center sector, G4, clusters around Think Progress. Note the strong ties to the top left, where the Ferguson traffic was heaviest. G4 is a key group for transmitting leftist politics into and out of ASA. The feminist Leta Hong Fincher is the node that connects this group to that fan of people off the bottom right of the cluster.

Finally, the bottom left group, G2, is centered on education and technology, with clusters around Liz Meyer, Marc Smith, Gina Neff, and others I’m not familiar with.

So

There are lots of social layers and clusters across the ASA, which could be grouped by specialty, department, age, race/ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, and so on. The Twitter network just happens to leave an easy data trail. I mention all these individuals not to play into a star system, but because it’s easier to name someone than to attempt to categorize them. I’m open to other interpretations of this graph.

I’m getting very sappy in my old age about my love for sociology and sociologists. But as I look over these figures, I think that if I had to pick 5,000 people to spend a weekend with, who all had only one thing in common, I think ASA members was a good choice.

 

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It’s modernity, stupid (Book review of The Sacred Project of American Sociology, by Christian Smith)

Book review: The Sacred Project of American Sociology, by Christian Smith. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Smith Confounding

Christian Smith Confounding Philip Cohen: With (left to right) Brad Wilcox, Mark Regnerus, C. Wright Mills, and Talcott Parsons (Original source: Giovanni di Paolo, St. Thomas Aquinas Confounding Averroës, from Wikimedia Commons)*

Note: I am self-publishing this review rather than trying to find another outlet for it because I once (in response to Smith’s email described below) used a single profanity in an email reply, and I don’t want to get some editor in trouble for allowing me to write a review when I have a documented personal animosity against the author. Unfortunately, it’s much longer than it would be if someone else published it. Sorry!

Christian Smith in this book reminds me of a vaccine denier. He is convinced the whole modern world is a Big Lie but, except for a few fellow travelers, he can’t find a way to convince everyone else that they’re the ones who are crazy. Inevitably, out of desperation, he starts to write in italics.

…the secular enterprise that everyday sociology appears to be pursuing is actually not what is really going on at sociology’s deeper level. Contemporary American sociology is, rightly understood, actually a profoundly sacred project at heart. Sociology today is in fact animated by sacred impulses, driven by sacred commitments, and serves a sacred project (x).

(In his frustration, he also clutters up a very short and simple book with endless redundant phrases like “in fact,” “rightly understood,” and “actually.” I haven’t added italics to any of his quotes in this review.)

He’s not being “tricky” with the term sacred: he means it in the strictly Durkheimian sense of, “things set apart from the profane and forbidden to be violated,” things “hallowed, revered, and honored as beyond questioning,” things that “can never be defiled, defied, or desecrated by any infringement or desecration” (1-2). This is not a metaphor, this is “exactly the character of the dominant project of American sociology” (2). Literally.

The book is not just the familiar diatribe against leftist groupthink in academia. What sets this apart is that Smith’s real problem is modernity itself, which I’ll return to. However, this particular expression of modernity – the one that happens to surround him in his chosen academic discipline – is especially grating. So we’ll start with that.

Like a vaccine denier, Smith is more and more convinced of his theory the more all the sociologists around him deny it. In fact, actually, rightly understood, rampant denial is literally evidence that he’s right. By the end of the book he concludes, “Many American sociologists will … find it impossible to see the sacred project that sociology is – precisely because my argument above is correct” (199). This treads uneasily close to the line where common arrogance tips over into a lack of grip on reality.

In the text of the American Sociological Association (ASA) description of the discipline, for example, “none of it admits to advancing a sacred project” (6). Aha! Why not? Two reasons, he figures. First, the sacred project “is so ubiquitous and taken for granted … that it has become invisible to most sociologists themselves” (6-7). Why would we discuss something universal and uncontroversial? Second, admitting its existence “would threaten the scientific authority and scholarly legitimacy of academic sociology,” so it must be “misrecognized, implicit, and unexamined” to maintain “plausible deniability,” and therefore “sociologists carefully exempt their own discipline from their otherwise searching sociological gaze” (7). So, we “carefully” keep secret for strategic reasons that which we cannot even know exists. The devil does work in mysterious ways.

Sacred is as sacred does

What is the content of the sacred project? In a bizarre throwback to the 1950s – he even puts red-scare quotes around “the people” [12] – Smith describes “the project” as

about something like exposing, protesting, and ending, through social movements, state regulations, and government programs all human inequality, oppression, exploitation, suffering, injustice, poverty, discrimination, exclusion, hierarchy, constraint and domination by, of, and over other humans (and perhaps animals and the environment (7).

For convenience, we could reasonably shorten this to, “communism.”

But this veneer of egalitarianism “does not go deep enough.” The project is

more fully and accurately described as … the visionary project of realizing the emancipation, equality, and moral affirmation of all human beings as autonomous, self-directing, individual agents (who should be) out to live their lives as they personally so desire, by constructing their own favored identities, entering and exiting relationships as they choose, and equally enjoying the gratification of experiential, material, and bodily pleasures (7-8).

We might call this deeper goal, “decadence.”

After that, it’s only a matter of a few lines before he starts putting “(so-called)” before “the Enlightenment” (8) and stringing together terms like this: “modern liberal-Enlightenment-Marxist-social-reformist-pragmatist-therapeutic-sexually liberated-civil right-feminist-GLBTQ-social constructionist-poststructuralist/postmodernist” (11). Did I mention this guy was Mark Regnerus’s dissertation committee chair at UNC? (Funny, he forgot to mention that, too.)

Of course, Smith has to admit that the sacred project is not something that all sociologists are into. “Most are, I think, being more or less conscious and activist on behalf of it [the project]. But some are not” (23). Who are those more innocent ones? He grudgingly lists five groups of exceptions (23-24):

  • “believers in sociology as purely a scientific study of society … often very fine people”;
  • “just commonplace ‘institution improvers,’” trying practically to make modern society work better;
  • “professional data collectors” who work in various bureaucracies and companies;
  • “ordinary, middle-America college professors who simply like to learn and teach about the family, criminal justice, or what have you”, and, finally;
  • “old-school liberals who genuinely believe in tolerance, fairness, and pluralism.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking this comprises is an important slice of American sociology, however, because they don’t represent “the discipline’s dominant culture, sensibilities, interests, discourse, and project.” And anyway, they are a very small minority. Excluding these five groups, in fact, Smith estimates that 30 to 40 percent are “true believers” and another 50 to 60 percent are “essentially on board, but are circumspect in how they express it” (24). Doing a quick calculation 100-(30+50) and 100-(40+60), it appears that those five groups of exceptions sum to between 0 percent and 20 percent of American sociologists. But it’s worse than even that, because some of the moderates, “when scratched hard enough,” do “show their true colors as sympathizers” with the project (25).

Hardly evidence

It seems shocking that that such an overwhelming majority of American sociologists could be so deeply into something so radical. To make such an extreme claim in a book published by a leading, highly reputable university press, surely one must have some pretty damning evidence? No.

It doesn’t help his case much, but the chapter titled “Evidence” is packed with ammunition for any grad student who ends up with Smith on his or her dissertation committee. Keep these defensive lines handy:

  • “the evidence I can offer is not ‘conclusive,’ at least when the standards of proof are set as the types that count for, say, publication in the top journals” (28). (No offense intended to Oxford University Press, I’m sure.)
  • What is “personally most convincing” is his own experience of many years, which he hopes will help readers “intuitively grasp the truth of my thesis” (28).
  • “There is no practical way to ‘test’ my thesis with standard sociological measures; the issues involved are too subtle and elusive to be ‘verified’ by such means” (29).
  • “I cannot conduct a systematic investigation to ‘prove’ that [some random claim], but I am confident that one well conducted would validate my claim” (66).
  • “Again, nobody, I am sure, has conducted or could conduct a systematic study of such features and reactions to empirically ‘prove’ my point” (87).

Honestly, the required survey design seems pretty simple. First, ask a sample of sociologists if they “are now or have ever been an activist on behalf of the sacred project.” Then, provide them with a list of their friends and colleagues, and ask for them to identify the individuals who would or should answer affirmatively to the first question.

Rather than follow such a straightforward approach, Smith presents “an array of semi-systemic evidence,” beginning with a “stroll through the ASA’s annual convention book exhibit” (29) (presumably senior professors with endowed chairs conducts “strolls” to collect their data, while junior faculty might feel the need to at least jog). From his stroll, he constructs 12 generic categories into which “most” of the books there “could be translated.” I won’t list them all, but these give you a feel:

  • People are Not Paying Enough Attention to Social Problem X, But if They Read this Book they Will Realize that They Have To
  • Women, Racial Minorities, and Poor People are Horribly Oppressed and You Should Be Really Angry About That!
  • Gays, Lesbians, Transsexuals, and other Queers are Everywhere and Their Experiences are Some of the Most Important Things Ever to Know About

After establishing the categories, he reprints the titles of about 30 books from NYU Press (which he doesn’t name because “a look at the sociology lists of virtually every other university press and trade publisher would produce a list very similar” [34]). The book list supports his hypothesis that there is a “narrow range of themes and perspectives.”

This is confusing. When you use concepts like, “Social Problem X,” and then put most books into that category, the question really is how many values does X take? This is like saying many history books are the same because they fit into the category, “Something happened during Period X in Place Y.”

The actual list of books he includes covers topics as diverse as factory farming, GLBT people in Islam, mass incarceration, paganism, breastfeeding, fair trade, donor conception, the NRA, school discipline, hip-hop culture, marriage promotion, immigrant health care, deliberate self-injury, and homeless youth. To Smith these are all “these type of books” produced by “activist disciples of the sacred project.” And, without opening a single one of them, he concludes, “So much for celebrating diversity, the proactive inclusion of social others, and welcoming differences” (34). (I’m thinking, “What an interesting body of work!”)

To supplement the NYU list, Smith adds 30 books reviewed in one issue of Contemporary Sociology. And now he’s in the territory of Sen. Tom Coburn – just listing research topics which, if you already think social science is stupid, sound stupid.

While one cannot always judge a book from its cover (title), my discussion above provides the right interpretive context for knowing what these books are about. Collectively, they are focused on threatening social problems (about which sociologists are the prophetic experts), injustices committed (about which sociologists are the whistle blowers), abuses by economically and politically (especially ‘neo-liberal’) powerful elites (ditto on whistle blowing), and mobilizing social and political movements for sociopolitical and economic change (about which sociologists are the experts and cheerleaders) (40).

To supplement his evidence, because titles don’t tell you everything, he includes five “exemplar” books, into which he delves more deeply – which means quoting from the book jackets and random reviews posted on Amazon.

And then Smith spends four pages – more than he spends on any other research in the book – attacking one book (which he didn’t read) about religion: Moral Ambition: Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches. He writes, “Between the book itself and the reviewer’s presentation of it, American sociologists are generally confirmed in their standard stereotypical fears about and negative mental associations with evangelicalism” (43). He refers to the book as a “sociological ethnography,” which reflects attitudes held by “sociologists” and the practices of “sociologists far and wide.” He doesn’t even show the courtesy of identifying the author (Omri Elisha) and citing the book properly. If he had, he might have noticed a slight problem with his evidence: the author is an anthropologist! Details.

To analyze research articles, Smith turns to American Sociological Review, based on the method of reading the next issue that arrives (Vol 78, No 3) for evidence of the “sacred project.” Except for one methodological piece, “the raft of articles in this issue tilted clearly in the supportive direction of the sacred project to which, explicitly or implicitly, subtly or obviously, the ASR, the ASA, and American sociology as a whole are committed” (58-59). The evidence he finds is basically that most of the articles study inequality, and when they do they sometimes describe it in negative terms. In essence, the existence of any sociological work describing any aspect of inequality confirms his hypothesis. (And somehow he thought this was too subtle to study empirically.)

Mo’ better modernity

The extent of his disillusionment finally becomes clear in a brief discussion of Horne et al’s, ASR article on bridewealth in Ghana. They investigated “normative constraints on women’s autonomy in the reproductive domain.” Smith objects to the value-laden perspective by which autonomy for women is assumed to be a good thing. He virtually sneers, “Here ‘improving the lives of African women’ is equated, as a good western feminist presupposition, with expanding ‘women’s reproductive autonomy’” (57).

Smith may not know that reproductive autonomy usually refers to a broad suite of decisions about childbearing within families, and it’s an important predictor of such vital outcomes as seeking medical care during pregnancy and delivery (e.g., in Ethiopia, Tajikistan, Bangladesh, and India), reduced unintended pregnancies (e.g., in Bangladesh), and children’s adequate nutrition (in India). If the big problem with sociology is that we assume those are positive outcomes, then I think I’m OK with that.

But Smith is presumably thinking of autonomy in the modern American sense of, “I’m bored, let’s get a divorce”; or, “I love myself, I think I’ll masturbate instead of volunteering at a soup kitchen.” And in that he has reason to worry, as it appears the majority of the world may be headed that direction.

smith-wvs

But surely – given the weak influence of sociology on global culture – he misdirects his irritation over modern life in general onto the sociologists who merely reflect it. This is especially clear in the discussion of sociology’s roots, which reveals the origins of the sacred project he is trying to describe:

As a project, sociology [originally] belonged at the heart of a movement that self-consciously and intentionally displaced western Christianity’s integrative and directive role in society. It was a key partner in modernity’s world-historical efforts to create a secular, rational, scientific social order … Sociology was not merely about piecemeal reforms but world transformation guided by a radically new sacred vision of humanity, life, society, and the cosmos (122).

Indeed, the latest version of the sacred project focuses on “the moral centrality of the autonomous, self-directing, therapeutically oriented individual,” but “this is merely a new emphasis, the seeds of which were planted long ago and have been growing along with the progressive unfolding of western modernity” (130). Thus, “the sacred project that dominates mainstream sociology today is a natural, logical development of the inheritance of liberal, Enlightenment modernity” (131).

Given the worldwide magnitude of this project, and its global success over several centuries, in which American sociology has played such a small role, its seems useless to single out today’s idealistic graduate students and young researchers for blame. They are mere cogs in the modernity machine. This is the deep incoherence of the book: he pours his scorn so superfluously on the leftists who annoy him even though the details of contemporary politics seem tangential to his existential concerns.

Into ASA

Smith extends his superficial empirical analysis into the subject of ASA sections, the organizations sociologists use to develop affinities around their interests and expand their institutional influence. This analysis consists entirely of Smith separating sections into three categories by title based purely on his own inimitable expertise. No content, no text, not even a mocking list of conference presentation titles – just section titles.

The first category is those that are “at the vanguard of sociology’s sacred project.” Naturally, this is the largest category, with some 13,000 members (many people belong to more than one). These include, obviously, Sex and Gender, as well as, less obviously, Mental Health; Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco; and Disability and Society. Next are those that are “less obviously but in many ways still promoting sociology’s sacred project.” These sections have about 11,000 members, including those covering Culture, Theory, Law, and Population. (Oddly, while Mental Health is in the seriously-bad category, Medical Sociology is only in the pretty-bad category. He said it was subtle.) He would “venture to say” based on his experience, that the “majority” of research and teaching by those in this second category “ultimately feeds into support for and the promotion of” the sacred project (66). Finally, there are only four sections, with less than 1,000 members, that are “seemingly not related” to the sacred project (History of Sociology, Mathematical Sociology, Rationality and Society, and Ethnomethodology).

To cover teaching, Smith discusses selected portions of John Macionis’s best-selling Society: The Basics. I have never used one, but I hear that intro books are often frustrating for research university professors, so I am sympathetic here, although my concerns would no doubt be different. I don’t mind criticizing the triumvirate theoretical framing of functionalism-conflict-interaction, but I’m OK with discussing the limits of “free will” (versus social influence), quoting Tocqueville on how excellent the French Revolution was, and even using of BCE/CE instead of BC/AD for dating eras (so touchy – who knew?).

Anyway, there is an extensive literature about introductory sociology textbooks, and since Smith ignores it I mostly ignored this section. However, I did like this: “I could also conduct the same kind of analysis of the other best-selling introductory sociology textbooks, and again, the results would be extremely similar” because “these textbooks are almost identical to each other” (85). I love that he knows this before conducting the “analysis.” But I also don’t doubt that we would reproduce similar conclusions regardless of what he read.

Tall tales

Smith concludes the crucial “Evidence” chapter with “some less systematic [!] but still I think revealing illustrations” (86). These are extended anecdotes that nicely illustrate his ability to harbor a grudge – including cases in which sociologists vehemently reacted to violations of the sacred project (mostly sociologists mistreating his friends).

For some of the anecdotes, Smith does not name names. This is supposedly to underscore his larger points, but since he is not a reliable reporter this is a very bad practice. One he discusses anonymously is obviously the reaction to the book by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially. His description is completely misleading, characterizing it only as a “book about the many benefits of marriage, the lead author of which was a very highly regarded University of Chicago sociologist and demographer.” Excluded is the fact that the book was not published by a university press (Doubleday), and that the second author was a conservative activist, a non-academic “affiliate scholar” working with the Institute for American Values (IAV). Gallagher was already known as a right-wing nut (the author of Enemies of Eros: How the Sexual Revolution Is Killing Family, Marriage, and Sex and What We Can Do About It), who went on to become perhaps the most famous American anti-gay marriage fanatic.

Waite was also working outside of academia to advocate policy. She was writing for IAV, and served on the research board of the National Marriage Project, an academic-activist organization promoting pro-marriage policy. Waite said she and Gallagher kept their politics separate and out of the book. Others disagreed. Clearly, Waite was moving in a more activist direction, as she acknowledged herself, couching her advocacy for marriage in public health terms, and comparing it to the campaigns about smoking and for exercise. A lively debate ensued. Smith describes an author-meets-critics session at the ASA conference in 2002, and says an eyewitness told him that one of the critics “literally frothed at the mouth” and shouted, “You have betrayed us!

But why is Waite different from the other activists who use social science research to promote social agendas – a similarity hidden by Smith’s selective description? And how is this debate so much more damaging than any other? To show the harm done by the sacred sociologists, Smith reports that Waite, who had been on the ASA Council and chair of the Family Section (incidentally one of Smith’s “vanguard” sacred project sections…), has not since held elective office in ASA. That’s true, and I doubt she would be elected if she ran, because of her politics. She has, however, continued a very successful career, holding a named chair at the University of Chicago and serving in important positions at the National Institutes of Health, among other distinctions. Being president of ASA is a privilege, not a right.

Another anecdote concerns Brad Wilcox’s tenure promotion at the University of Virginia, also hardly anonymized (93-95). As a non-public personnel matter, however, this case is poorly suited for weaponization. I don’t know the facts first-hand, and Smith doesn’t offer any documentation or reveal his source for the story. The gist of it is that Wilcox’s department at the University of Virginia voted to deny him tenure, but they were overruled by the top level of administration (Smith says it was the provost that saved the promotion, while Wilcox colleague Robert George reported it was the president). I don’t know the extent to which Wilcox’s religious affiliation or political positions played a role in the department’s decision, and I certainly wouldn’t take Smith’s word for it. Simply counting the publications on a CV is not enough to judge a tenure decision; the quality and impact of the work matter, too, as do ethics and character. For example, regardless of his publication record I might vote to deny Wilcox tenure on the basis of his dishonesty and incompetence (which I have documented voluminously – although my stories begin after he was tenured).

Regnerus reflux

All this is setup for Smith’s rant about the Regnerus affair (overview here; archive of posts under this tag). When the scandal was unfolding in 2012, Smith made an unintentional appearance in the blogosphere when some of his outraged email to sociologists (including me) was posted on the Scatterplot blog (here and here). He followed that up with an essay defending Regnerus in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which accused academic sociology of perpetrating an auto-da-fé (which is similar to being criticized on blogs, except in every possible way).

Obsessed readers will recall that, in the original version of that essay, Smith wrote, “Full disclosure: I was on the faculty in Regnerus’s department and advised him for some years, but was not his dissertation chair.” That was later corrected to read, “Full disclosure: I was chair of Regnerus’s dissertation committee.” This seems not a minor detail to forget, considering (by his accounting) Smith and Regnerus co-authored eight articles together, and Regnerus was one of only six dissertations Smith chaired at UNC.

Regnerus dissertation signature page.

Regnerus dissertation signature page.

Smith is still having trouble with the details of the story, and forgets again to “fully disclose” this fact.

He also tells this story as if everything Regnerus said initially was true and nothing substantial was subsequently uncovered. For example, it hardly seems relevant anymore that, “Regnerus was clear in his article that his findings did not point in any specific policy direction” (102), now that Regnerus and his colleagues did use his results to press the case against marriage equality, in both briefs and expert testimony. We also now know, confirming the early conspiracy theories, that Regnerus and his colleagues – principally Wilcox – did indeed plan the study as an activist endeavor to influence the courts. (This doesn’t mean they faked the data, only that they were sure they would find a way to find something in the data to make gay and lesbian parents look bad.)

Smith quotes from Regnerus’s paper, “I have not and will not speculate here on causality,” but we now know that Regnerus grossly does exaggerate his results and draw causal conclusions when speaking to like-minded audiences, including by presenting unadjusted results while discussing his statistical controls, and by speculating about mechanisms for the patterns he found. The original published paper, with its caveats and disclaimers, proved irrelevant to how the movement against marriage equality used it for their ideological ends.

In any event, Smith still needs to vent on the ill treatment he believes Regnerus received at the hands of the purveyors of the sacred project. He devotes more than 14 pages to the scandal, of which almost 6 are footnotes in which he schools himself on the legal particulars of the case, condemns the non-academic activists who agitated and sued their way through the process, and takes on some of the wider research on same-sex parenting. Not surprisingly, however, I’m afraid Smith seems to have learned little from the scandal (including the relevant facts).

One odd falsehood Smith commits is claiming there was a “review process by which the [Regnerus] article had been unanimously judged worthy of publication by six double-blind reviewers” (107), which he repeats later (157). If this is an honest error it results from misreading the internal review conducted by Darren Sherkat for the journal, Social Science Research (SSR), in response to the scandal. Sherkat reported that there were six reviewers for two articles that sparked controversy – three each. So, three reviewers, not six. Also, Smith must know that SSR is the only major sociology journal to practice single-blind review. The reviewers always know who wrote the articles they review. In fact, as we now know, two of the three reviewers were directly involved in the research: Paul Amato, who has described his role as a paid consultant on the study; and, far worse, Brad Wilcox, the principal fundraiser and institutional architect of the research, whose role as a reviewer was finally admitted in August 2013. So, not exactly “double-blind,” even nominally.

Smith’s main complaint is that the sociologists criticizing Regnerus have always ignored weak studies and shoddy research methods when people who used them found that gay and lesbian parents don’t harm children. This is the “ideological double standard” that Smith called “pathetic” in an email to me and others, now rehashed at p. 110 of his book. But it’s ridiculous. Neither I nor the others objecting to the Regnerus paper claimed our primary objective was the protection of accurate science in some abstract sense. The paper drew the sustained attention that it did because of the moment and manner in which it appeared – and was deployed – in a raging national debate with important, practical consequences for real life.

Speaking for myself, I of course routinely review and recommend rejection for research articles whose results and apparent worldview are completely consistent with my empirical expectations and normative assumptions (even in cases where rubberstamping them into publication would increase my own citation count). And I often decline to cite relevant research that would support whatever case I’m making if I don’t find it sound or credible. I have standards for quality and I impose them in the routine course of business. But I don’t stand on street corners and holler at passersby every time a poor quality article is published, the way I do when one is that attacks minority civil rights. That’s not hypocrisy, that’s priorities.

On the merits of the equivalency claim – bad Regnerus, bad prior research – I also disagree. Much of the previous research on same-sex parenting was essentially in the form of case studies and convenience samples, which are legitimate ways of studying small and hard-to-identify populations, despite the possibility of selection bias and social desirability bias. As Andrew Perrin, Neal Caren and I argued in a response paper, that previous research, in the aggregate, is consistent with the “no differences” view because it fails to falsify the hypothesis that there is a notable disadvantage to being raised by same-sex parents. All those case studies and convenience samples do not prove there is no disadvantage attributable to same-sex parenting – they merely fail to find one. And that is the state of the research today.

Unsurprisingly, Smith draws the wrong conclusion from the Regnerus affair, arguing that the greatest negative outcome was the threat to the peer-review process posed by the criticism of Regnerus:

Most obvious in that episode was the attack on Regnerus himself. Less obvious but no less important was the assault on the integrity of the double-blind peer-review process involved in those attacks. Recall that Regnerus’ paper had been evaluated by six blind reviewers, all of whom recommended publication. Recall that the quality of Regnerus’ sample was, though not perfect, superior to any other that had been used to answer this research question prior to his study. Nothing in the review process was unusual or dubious… (157).

Even if all that were true, and it is demonstrably all not true, I still don’t think protest and criticism of published research – what Smith calls “scholarly review by mob intimidation” – marks “the end of credible social science” (161). This is like saying the problem with the Vietnam War was that it ushered in a new era in which elected politicians can’t even make the decision to go to war anymore without the threat of mob protests and civil disobedience. Who let the public in to this democracy, anyway? (Of course, as I was once instructed by a colleague, academia is not a democracy, it’s a meritocracy.)

His summary of the story takes on this Orwellian character. “I do not mean to suggest that sociology’s journal peer-review system is rampant with corruption,” he says, somehow referring not to the bad decision to publish the article, but rather to the public criticism it sustained.

But I do think it is vulnerable to pernicious influences exerted by some scholars who are driven by some of the less admirable aspects of sociology’s sacred project. The Regnerus debacle shows that it can happen and has happened. The potential for abuse is real (162).

The abuse in the Regnerus case was not in the protest, but in the mobilization of big, private money to generate research intended to influence the courts, infecting the reviewer pool with consulting fees among insider networks, manipulating the journal into relying on reviewers without expertise in gay and lesbian family studies, and then mobilizing the result for harmful political ends. The public criticism, on the other hand, besides making Regnerus professionally toxic – for which I have little sympathy – served only to bring this to the attention of the academic community and the public. I may be in the minority on this among academics who value their privileged social status, but I don’t even object to the public records requests for information on the peer review process (which, although not triggered by sociologists, consume several pages of Smith’s narrative). Rather, I regret that the use of private money and a corporate publisher limited the possibility for more thorough transparency in the process.

Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins.

Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins.

Blame the bloggers

Like he blames politics when he doesn’t like the political outcome, Smith blames communication itself when he doesn’t like the content expressed. In this case, that means the blogs. I find this passage jaw-dropping:

The Internet has created a whole new means by which the traditional double-blind peer-review system may be and already is in some ways, I believe, being undermined. I am referring here to the spate of new sociology blogs that have sprung up in recent years in which handfuls of sociologists publicly comment upon and often criticize published works in the discipline. The commentary published on these blogs operates outside of the gatekeeping systems of traditional peer review. All it takes to make that happen is for one or more scholars who want to amplify their opinions into the blogosphere to set up their own blogs and start writing. … If this were conducted properly, it could provide benefit to the discipline. But, in my observation, the discipline’s sacred project sometimes steers how these sociology blogs operate in highly problematic directions (166).

He calls this “vigilante peer review.” And I guess I’m doing it right now.

No journal or book review editor has asked any of these sociologists to review a paper or book. What publications get critiqued and sometimes lambasted is entirely up to the blog owners and authors (166).

Then, after a three-page excerpt from a Darren Sherkat blog post – which, admittedly, probably was not intended to lower Smith’s blood pressure – he concludes:

The Internet has created new means by which American sociology’s spiritual project … can and does interfere with the integrity and trustworthiness of the social-scientific, journal article peer-review system (172).

Yikes. This might all not seem so embarrassingly wrong if it didn’t follow from holding up Regnerus as the paragon of the peer review system.

I can’t think of exactly the right children’s movie analogy here – a grouchy traditionalist who eventually learns that it’s OK to be free and have fun. It’s not quite The Grinch, because that was just evil for no reason. It’s not quite Captain von Trapp from Sound of Music, because his misplaced need for social order resulted from the injury of his widowhood. Maybe it’s Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins, who is just merrily living his life, benignly assuming that children should be seen and not heard because that’s the way it’s always been. I like the movies where, in the end, the grouch learns that it’s OK to sing and dance.

On the other hand

The most persuasive passage in the book is one that is mostly irrelevant to Smith’s sacred project argument. He believes American sociologists have tended in recent years to separate themselves into disparate groups of like-minded people, so that there is “a tacit peace treaty specifying that everyone should mostly think and do whatever he or she wishes in terms of methods, theory, and intent and not suggest that what anyone else is doing might be a problem” – as long as it’s politically correct (142). If the people we talk and argue with professionally have very similar views, debate over broader intellectual or philosophical issues is too limited.

At the same time, too many grad students are trained as narrow technicians, with not enough “broadly read, thoughtful, intellectually interesting scholars and teachers” (143). He may perhaps overstate that case, but it’s a reasonable thing to worry about:

In sum, most of American sociology has become disciplinarily isolated and parochial, sectarian, internally fragmented, boringly homogeneous, reticently conflict-averse, philosophically ignorant, and intellectually torpid (144).

His greatest error in this part is see activist leftists dominating the prestige game within the discipline, shutting out and shunning anyone who doesn’t conform. It seems obvious to me that technical expertise and empirical problem solving skills are much greater determinants of access to top publications and jobs than is devotion to what Smith calls the sacred project. Whacky leftists who don’t think critically (who are of course only a subset of leftists) might be part of the winning electoral coalition within ASA, but I don’t think they’re running the discipline.

The greater culprit here, in my opinion, is not political homogeneity but rather pressure to specialize and develop technical expertise early in our graduate training in order to publish in prestigious journals as early as possible to get hired and promoted in tenure-track jobs. I would love it if sociology had more interaction and debate between, say, family scholars and criminologists, network sociologists and gender scholars, demographers and theorists. (One workaround, at least for me, has been devoting time in my career to blogging and social media, which generates excellent conversation and exposure to new people away from my areas of expertise.)

Don’t just stand there

I agree there are sociologists who see it as their mission to be “essentially the criminal investigative unit of the left wing of the Democratic Party” (21). From the thousands of graduate applications I’ve reviewed, it’s clear that many of our students enter sociology because they are looking for a way to attack social problems and move society in the direction determined by their moral and political views and values. And they’re usually not political conservatives or evangelical Christians.

Why fault people for doing that? What are people with such convictions and talents supposed to do? Sometimes it doesn’t work out as an academic career, but it’s often worth a try. In sociology training, meanwhile, they have the opportunity to learn a lot of facts and theories along with everyone else. And they might also learn to avoid some common intellectual problems. Some things students learn – or learn to appreciate further – include: Things do not always automatically get worse for oppressed people; not all state institutions are harmful to subordinate groups; some facts undermine our prior understandings and political views, and it’s OK to discuss them; and, no matter how oppressed your people are, if you’re in an American sociology graduate program, chances are there are people somewhere who are even more oppressed.

I don’t mean to be condescending to people who enter academia with activist intentions – although I’m sure I seem that way. Personally, I am happier working in such company than I would be surrounded by people who only have faux-value-neutral, technocratic ambitions and no righteous outrage to express. That doesn’t mean I’ll rubberstamp comprehensive exams or dissertations, or ignore errors in the peer-review process, because I like someone’s politics. I like the discipline that social science offers to activism. And I like that our discipline offers a career path for (among others) people whose passion is for changing the world in a good way – the meaning of which I’m happy to argue about further.

* I am not getting into personalism, critical realism, Aristotle, Karol Wojtyla, or other obscure stuff, much of which Smith puts in an appendix.

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‘Gay marriage hurts kids,’ zombie edition

Last summer I wrote, “The Supreme Court Kills the ‘Gay Marriage Is Bad for Kids’ Argument.” But now comes this in the New York Times: “Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage Take Bad-for-Children Argument to Court.” So I guess it’s undead, at least long enough to pay a few more expert witness fees.

The NYTimes story covers their approach, which I can’t imagine will get past Anthony Kennedy at the Supreme Court, who has made it clear which direction the harm runs. He wrote in the decision last summer that, under the Defense of Marriage Act,  “same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways,” which “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

Maze update

Anyway, today’s story leads us back to the Regnerus affairIn a 2010 email (described here) — one that presumably taught the young Mark Regnerus not to put everything in his university emails, the one that would definitively expose that Brad Wilcox lied about his role in the study — Regnerus wrote to Wilcox:

I would like, at some point, to get more feedback from Luis and Maggie about the ‘boundaries’ around this project, not just costs but also their optimal timelines (for the coalition meeting, the data collection, etc.), and their hopes for what emerges from this project, including the early report we discussed in DC.

I knew that referred to Luis Tellez* from the Witherspoon Institute, but I couldn’t be sure that “Maggie” was Maggie Gallagher. But it now appears from expert deposition in the upcoming Michigan trial (from David Allen here, and Joe Price here) that the DC meeting was organized by Heritage Foundation staff, who paid for the participants’ travel expenses. And it included Gallagher, David Blankenhorn, Wilcox and Regnerus. This is not surprising, but it’s important, because it puts those experts, who went on to produce research for the cause, in a meeting organized for the purpose of developing the legal case against gay marriage. This could be relevant to their status as expert witnesses, but it’s also relevant to the politics-of-science aspect of this whole thing.

So we can update the Regnerus affair maze, adding Gallagher, Blankenhorn, and Heritage (now I’m out of spots):

regenerus-affair-maze-updated

My opinion

In case it’s not obvious, I would like to express this opinion: honest social scientists do not combine these activities: (1) secret meetings with partisan activist groups to raise money and set political agendas for their research; and, (2) omitting mention of those associations later. If Regnerus, Wilcox, Allen, and Price, had included acknowledgements in their publications that described these associations, then they would be just like anyone else who does research on subjects on which they have expressed opinions publicly: potentially legitimate but subject to closer scrutiny (which should include editors not including people from the same group as reviewers). Failure to disclose this in the publication process is dishonesty.

Funny aside: just the other day I used the NYTimes‘ habit of quoting Andrew Cherlin on family trends as an example of the paper’s narrow reach into the deep bench of publicly engaged sociologists. And here he is again, quoted making the well-known observation that, “The overwhelming evidence so far is that there’s not much difference between children raised by heterosexual or same-sex parents.” What’s disappointing is that he serves as the story’s voice above the fray — the expert who is “not involved in the case” — when they have the American Sociological Association’s report making the same argument with what should be more heft toward the end of the story.

Tell it like it’s not addendum

This issue of the political agenda behind the research has been raised as a possible reason to disqualify the anti-equality expert witnesses. To that end, apparently, the Brigham Young economist Joseph Price took a grant from the Witherspoon Institute off his CV — but not before the plaintiff’s counsel saw it, leading to this funny exchange during his deposition (at tiny-page 15 here; pointed out to me by Neal Caren):

price-lieThis justification, that the grant “doesn’t really fit the category of a grant in the same way others do,” as a reason to completely take it off your CV, is somewhere between highly unusual and just plain ludicrous.

* 9/30/2014: Looks like I had the wrong Luis Tellez on her before. Sorry. The Witherspoon Tellez is not as into having his picture online as the other guy with that name.

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Quote that sociologist, 124 in the Times edition

Nicholas Kristof’s infamous takedown of professors for marginalizing themselves included this dismissive description of sociology’s dismal record of dismissal:

Many academic disciplines also reduce their influence by neglecting political diversity. Sociology, for example, should be central to so many national issues, but it is so dominated by the left that it is instinctively dismissed by the right.

There is a nice roundup of responses to Kristof by Jessie Daniels here. I have just two small things to add. First, “instinctively” is clearly the wrong word here. I might say “reflexively,” but really it’s “conveniently,” and that convenience partly results from stereotypes like this.

Second, much of what sociologists do to bring their expertise to the public (besides, of course, teach) is not part of such an explicit left-right debate in which rational policymakers and economists casually dismiss hysterical leftist sociologists. Rather, it’s part of the general work of bringing research results and interpretation to the public, largely through the media, including, occasionally, the New York Times.

sociologist

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t instinctively dismiss sociologists.

Many of us in our own corners of the discipline feel that the NYT and the other big media always quotes the same small set of experts in our areas: (e.g., Andrew Cherlin on family trends). So I was surprised to see that my Lexis-Nexis search for “sociology or sociologist” within 10 words of “professor” in the NYT in 2013 turned up 124 sociology professors quoted in news articles, reviews, or op-eds (I excluded letter writers and the subjects of wedding announcements and obituaries).

These are them:

Yasin Aktay
Khalid al-Dakhil
Elizabeth Armstrong
Robert Aronowitz
Jacob Avery
Jere Behrman
Andrew Beveridge
Roberto Biorcio
Vern Bullough
Deborah Carr
Hector Carrillo
Camille Charles
Andrew Cherlin
Margaret Chin
Philip Cohen
Dalton Conley
Thomas Cushman
Sarah Damaske
Michele Dauber
Nikos Demertzis
Justin Denney
Fiona Devine
Larry Diamond
Gail Dines
Mitch Duneier
Riley Dunlap
Nina Eliasoph
Irma Elo
Paula England
Thomas Espenshade
Yang Fenggang
Sujatha Fernandes
Nancy Foner
Menachem Friedman
David Gartman
Kathleen Gerson
Todd Gitlin
Nathan Glazer
Jeff Goodwin
Ross Haenfler
Jack Halberstam
David Halle
Laura Hamilton
Roger Hammer
Melissa Hardy
Samuel Heilman
William Helmreich
Darnell Hunt
Margaret Hunter
Richard Ingersoll
Hahm In-hee
Michael Jacobson
Colin Jerolmack
Arne Kalleberg
John Kattakayam
James Kelly
Shamus Khan
Michael Kimmel
Stephen Klineberg
Eric Klinenberg
Hans-Peter Kohler
Jerome Krase
Jack Levin
Harry Levine
Robert Lilly
Douglas Masey
Leslie McCall
David Meyer
Richard Miech
Ruth Milkman
Joya Misra
Phyllis Moen
John Mollenkopf
Ann Morning
Katherine Newman
Andrew Noymer
Aaron Pallas
Wes Perkins
Julie Phillips
Janet Poppendieck
Gerard Postiglione
Samuel Preston
Gretchen Purser
Jill Quadagno
Sean Reardon
Mark Regnerus
Jonathan Rieder
Jake Rosenfeld
Michael Rosenfeld
Preston Rudy
Robert Sampson
Nandini Sardesai
Mike Savage
Rachel Schurman
Morrie Schwartz
Greg Scott
David Segal
Markus Shafer
Mimi Sheller
Elizabeth Shove
Theda Skocpol
Sanjay Srivastava
Kevin Stainback
Pamela Stone
Kregg Strehorn
David Stuckler
Shruti Tambe
Pelin Tan
Thomas Tierney
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey
Zeynep Tufekci
Shiv Visvanathan
Alex Vitale
Jane Waldfogel
Oliver Wang
Mary Waters
Frederick Weil
Saundra Westervelt
JeffriAnne Wilder
William Julius Wilson
James Witte
Linda Woodhead
Brian Wynne
Cristobal Young

Without doing a whole content analysis, it looks to me that most (or at least a lot) of these stories were not quoting sociologists as part of an ideological debate, but rather as experts describing developments in their subject areas.

In addition, the Times published op-eds by at least 15 sociology professors in 2013:

Rene Almeling
Andrew Cherlin
Philip Cohen
Matthew Desmond
Jennifer Glass
Jeff Goodwin
Erin Hatton
Shamus Khan
Michael Kimmel
Monica Prasad
Sean Reardon
Jonathan Rieder
Scott Schieman
Juliet Schor
Patrick Sharkey
Wang Feng

I’m sure there are better ways to do this more accurately, but you can consider this a conservative estimate, since it omits those sociologists who go by another identification (like Brad “intact, biological marriage is still the gold standard” Wilcox, who sells himself as Director of the National Marriage Project), those randomly described as sociologists (such as Charles Murray), people who are said to “teach sociology,” and graduate students. These are just people specifically described as professors.

You don’t have to be an economist to know that economists are quoted more. But is this a lot of representation? I don’t know.

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Sociology citing Becker

Which comes first, the Nobel prize or the citations in sociology journals?

Neal Caren produced a list of the 52 works most cited in sociology journals in 2013, which included two Nobel prize winning economists:

  • Heckman, James J. “Sample selection bias as a specification error.” Econometrica: Journal of the econometric society (1979): 153-161.
  • Gary S. Becker. A Treatise on the Family. Harvard university press, 1981.

I assume those Heckman citations are the result of sadistic journal reviewers or dissertation committee members impressive their colleagues by requiring people to add selection corrections to their regressions.

The Becker citations were applauded by economists. I assumed they were usually cursory mentions in the literature review, representing neoclassical economics in the study of families. And that is basically right. In the 10 most recent citations to Treatise in top-three sociology journals, the book is always mentioned only once. See for yourself. Here are the passages out of context (citations at the end):

  1. A great deal of work in sociological theory addresses the determinants of marriage and the bases of divorce. Some of this work posits marriage as a form of social exchange, whereby internal benefits (sex) and costs (time) are calculated and weighed relative to external costs (money) and benefits (social approval) (Becker 1991).

  2. According to the negotiation framework known as intra-household bargaining (Agarwal 1997), rather than households behaving as cohesive units (Becker 1991), household members’ bargaining and decision making over the allocation of resources (e.g., income, health, education, time use) are conditioned by gender-based power differentials.

  3. In the classic economic and game theoretic models of partner matching and mate selection (Becker 1991; Gale and Shapley 1962), the relative value of every potential mate is assumed to be already known or can easily be determined (Todd and Miller 1999).

  4. Generally used to explain behavior during the waking hours, the time availability perspective suggests that because men spend more time in paid work, they have less time to do caregiving; the related specialization hypothesis suggests that women have the time and incentive to specialize in caregiving and unpaid work (Becker 1991[1981]).

  5. A second means by which household wealth is accrued is by means of family transfers. Economic assets, whether financial or real, are transferred from family members to others, both within and across generations (Becker 1991; Mulligan 1997; Wahl 2002).

  6. The compensating differentials argument suggests that mothers are more willing than non-mothers to trade wages for family-friendly employment. For example, Becker (1991) suggests that mothers may choose jobs that require less energy or that have parent-friendly characteristics, such as flexible hours, few demands for travel or nonstandard shifts, or on-site daycare.

  7. Differences in life course patterns between men and women may reflect the influences of traditional gender roles in the family and corresponding intermittent labor force attachment among women relative to men, particularly during childbearing years (Becker 1991; Bianchi 1995; Mincer and Polachek 1974).

  8. One of the primary ways in which education leads to lower fertility is by changing the calculation of the costs and benefits of childbearing and rearing (Becker 1991).

  9. As has long been recognized in both economics and sociology, an adequate explanation of gender inequality in the labor force therefore requires the researcher to go beyond discrimination and productivity-related attributes (i.e., human capital) and to consider the role of the family (Becker 1973, 1974, 1991; Mincer and Polachek 1974; many others). … First, it is assumed that economic resources are a family-level utility that is shared equally between the spouses (Becker 1973, 1974, 1991; Lundberg and Pollak 1993; Mincer and Polachek 1974).

  10. Fathers’ economic contributions are an important resource for children in all types of families (Becker 1991; Coleman 1988).

I noticed, incidentally, that we may have hit Peak Becker. The Web of Science citation count for his work in journals coded as Sociology peaked in 2011. Maybe the 2012 data just aren’t complete yet.

peak-becker

Out of curiosity, I also checked the citations in major economics journals to the most highly-cited sociology article on the household division of labor known for a theoretical argument, Julie Brines’s 1994 article in the American Journal of Sociology. Just kidding; there aren’t any.

No, that’s not true. The article has been cited once in the top 40 economics journals, in Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice:

The higher wage earner enjoys a superior bargaining position, and thus can use that power to demand less household responsibility – a proposition that has been the focus of substantial empirical research among sociologists (Heer, 1963, Brines, 1994, Greenstein, 2000, Bittman et al., 2003, Parkman, 2004 and Gupta, 2007).

References

  1. Rose McDermott. and James H. Fowler. and Nicholas A. Christakis. “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else Is Doing It Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample.” Social Forces 92.2 (2013): 491-519.
  2. Greta Friedemann-Sánchez. and Rodrigo Lovatón. “Intimate Partner Violence in Colombia: Who Is at Risk?” Social Forces 91.2 (2012): 663-688
  3. Michael J. Rosenfeld and Reuben J. Thomas. 2012. Searching for a Mate: The Rise of the Internet as a Social Intermediary. American Sociological Review August 2012 77: 523-547. doi:10.1177/0003122412448050
  4. Sarah A. Burgard. “The Needs of Others: Gender and Sleep Interruptions for Caregivers.” Social Forces 89.4 (2011): 1189-1215.
  5. Moshe Semyonov. and Noah Lewin-Epstein. “Wealth Inequality: Ethnic Disparities in Israeli Society.” Social Forces 89.3 (2011): 935-959.
  6. Michelle J. Budig and Melissa J. Hodges. 2010. Differences in Disadvantage: Variation in the Motherhood Penalty across White Women’s Earnings Distribution. American Sociological Review October 2010 75: 705-728, doi:10.1177/0003122410381593.
  7. Jennie E. Brand and Yu Xie. 2010. Who Benefits Most from College?: Evidence for Negative Selection in Heterogeneous Economic Returns to Higher Education. American Sociological Review April 2010 75: 273-302, doi:10.1177/0003122410363567.
  8. Brienna Perelli-Harris. “Family Formation in Post-Soviet Ukraine: Changing Effects of Education in a Period of Rapid Social Change.” Social Forces 87.2 (2008): 767-794.
  9. Emily Greenman. and Yu Xie. “Double Jeopardy?: The Interaction of Gender and Race on Earnings in the United States.” Social Forces 86.3 (2008): 1217-1244.
  10. Daniel N. Hawkins, Paul R. Amato, and Valarie King. 2007. Nonresident Father Involvement and Adolescent Well-Being: Father Effects or Child Effects? American Sociological Review December 72: 990-1010, doi:10.1177/000312240707200607.
  11. Sirui Liu, Pamela Murray-Tuite, Lisa Schweitzer. 2012. Analysis of child pick-up during daily routines and for daytime no-notice evacuations, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Volume 46, Issue 1, Pages 48-67.

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Suzanne Bianchi

suzannepaa

Suzanne Bianchi died on November 4th. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July. Beyond her family and friends, Suzanne’s death is a tremendous loss for family demography and sociology, to which she contributed so much, and to the network of collaborators, students, and former students that she nurtured during her too-short career.

After completing her PhD at the University of Michigan in 1978, she spent 16 years working at the U.S. Census Bureau before joining the faculty at the University of Maryland in 1994. In 2009 she moved to UCLA. In 2000 she was president of the Population Association of America. (Google Scholar profile, UCLA profile, UMD profile.)

I met her at Maryland in 1995, where I took her seminar, Demography of the Labor Force, and she served on my dissertation committee in 1999. We wrote an article together in 1999, and I contributed to another one in 2004. But those bio details don’t tell the story of her impact on my life and career, or those of so many other students.

From my own first job at Census to my move back to Maryland, I haven’t made a major career decision in the last 20 years without consulting her, and for good reason — for a smart, selfless, well-centered interpretation of what was going on, no one was better. Hers was the rare ability to do great social science and great personal interaction, and she cared deeply about both.

suzanne-group

Back: Ching-Yi Shieh, Rose Kreider, Aparna Sundaram, Suzanne Bianchi, Liana Sayer, Philip Cohen. Front: Soumya Alva, Chunnong Saeger, Lekha Subaiya, Jane Lawler Dye, Marybeth Mattingly

This picture, probably from the 2000 Population Association conference, hints at her influence on the students with whom she worked (this CV lists her students through 2011). In academia, policy and demographic practice, the field is littered with people who learned from her and worked with her, directly or indirectly. These are 57 of her co-authors:

Katharine Abraham
Mary Allard
Christine Bachrach
Michael Bittman
Caroline Bledsoe
Lynne Casper
Lindsay Chase-Lansdale
Philip Cohen
Diana Colasanto
Thomas DiPrete
Jane Dye
Paula England
Reynolds Farley
Javier Garcia-Manglano
Shirley Hatchett
Howard Hayghe
Sandra Hofferth
Joseph Hotz
Kristin Hunt
Joan Kahn
Sarah Kendig
Laurent Lesnard
Judith Lichtenberg
Aaron Maitland
Marybeth Mattingly
Kathleen McGarry
Brittany McGill
Melissa Milkie
Kristin Moore
Philip Morgan
Tiziana Nazio
Kei Nomaguchi
Pia Peltola
Joseph Pleck
Joe Price
Tetyana Pudrovska
Yeu Qiu
Sara Raley
John Robinson
Carolyn Rogers
Nancy Rytina
Seth Sanders
Liana Sayer
Howard Schuman
Judith Seltzer
Daphne Spain
Jay Stewart
Charles Strohm
Jeffrey Stueve
Lekha Subaiya
Duncan Thomas
Betsy Thorn
Robert Wachbroit
Wendy Wang
David Wasserman
Vanessa Wight
Jenjira Yahirun

Suzanne’s presidential address was titled, “Maternal Employment and Time with Children: Dramatic Change or Surprising Continuity?” If you’re reading this you are probably familiar with it. She reported that, despite dire warnings of imminent harm to children — and countless empirical searches for that harm — the evidence was that women’s employment did not harm their children, perhaps because it wasn’t leading to parents spending less time with them. Instead, lower fertility, changing definitions of ideal childhood, time juggling by parents, and increasing father time had kept parental time with children roughly constant. Plus, parents didn’t spend as much time with their kids in the old days as researchers generally assumed anyway. Her address changed the field, and helped open up research into the dynamics of family time use, which had often been black-boxed as simply non-employed time.

As I thought about her own time cut suddenly short and reread that article, I caught on the last paragraph. With her typical balance of clear-eyed yet completely compassionate, she concluded:

My one concern is that I have given the impression that women have found it quite easy to balance increased labor force participation with child rearing, to reduce hours of employment so as to juggle childcare, and to get their husbands more involved in child rearing; and that fathers have found it easy to add more hours with children to those they already commit to supporting children financially. I do not think these changes have been easy for American families, particularly for American women. Why have women so increased their hours of paid employment? Many observers would emphasize constraints — men’s poor labor force prospects — and this is probably part of the story. But this explanation is not sufficient, for it gives too little attention to the dramatic change in opportunities for women and in women’s own conceptions of what a successful, normal adulthood should entail. Yet I suspect that every mother has felt self-doubt about the path taken, and has been concerned about whether she has done the best thing for herself and/or her children, and that these feelings continue to give women pause and to slow change both in the marketplace and at home.

I’m sure she was reflecting in part on her own life and career as she delivered that speech — at the pinnacle of her career, with her family in attendance. Her life embodied that transformation — those opportunities, and that self-reflection — and in her career she made an indelible contribution both to our understanding of this newer world, and to the lives of many people making their way within it.

Update: Since I wrote this, other obituaries and tributes have appeared. Here are a few:

 

 

 

 

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