Review of Relational Inequalities: An Organizational Approach, with audio

cover of Relational Inequalities

I had the privilege of sitting on an author-meets-critics panel for the the book Relational Inequalities: An Organizational Approach, by Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Dustin Avent-Holt, at the Eastern Sociological Society meetings this weekend. The panel was organized by Steven Vallas, and included Adia Harvey Wingfield. Because two other panelists canceled, I had a lot of time and ended up speaking for 25 minutes. We had a great discussion after the formal remarks, which only deepened my appreciation for the book. I recorded my remarks. Here is audio, with 4 minutes of ums and dead ends edited out:

 

And here is a lightly edited transcript:

I want to thank Steve, as well as Don and Dustin, for organizing and writing, respectively. It’s really been a pleasure. In the same way that once upon a time I used to run faster when I played competitive sports, because someone was yelling at me to run faster, reading a book knowing that I’m going to offer commentary on it to an audience of people whose opinions I respect makes me try harder and pay more attention, and focus more on it. So it’s a privilege to have this be one part of my job. I don’t normally read books all the way through and think about them carefully and sketch out my thoughts, so I really learned a lot doing that.

In the process, you know, it’s 10 months ago whenever we got this invitation, and then finally the book comes, and then I skim through it, then I put it down, and then you know it comes down to the last couple of days in my room reading the book carefully, and it’s been great. And fresh. Very fresh, right through breakfast.

I want to start by talking about my own work. Just kidding.

I have an outline. I start with praise. And then questions about what’s the relationship between organizations and inequality, as far as creating, reflecting, reproducing inequality; discussion of the role of education, as one of the things that it is external to organizations; and then a discussion of inequality within and between organizations, and where this fits in with the path of social change.

Praise

It’s a really really good book. And I look forward to putting it on our comprehensive exam reading list for the inequality reading group, I think it teaches this stuff really well – the literature on organizations and inequality. A great audience for it is people who are designing research projects having to do with inequality, and what is the role of organizations going to be in the work.

One of the things that’s really important, and you have to get to it right away, is the disconnect between the method of most research which is individual observation, and mostly surveys, and the theorized mechanisms about how inequality works, which are largely relational. And so we look at individuals and we say, oh look people with more education have more income, or we say we have racial inequality and we have immigration, and we have all these measures which are usually at the individual level, and then the mechanisms which we think are producing these are schools and segregation and discrimination, and things that are all interactional, or relational, between people within and around organizations. And so that’s just a sociological take that is very important here.

I love the mezo/contextual way of thinking in the analysis, between the individual and the country or the state or something like that, and at the organizational level that complexity and variation – how there is so much difference in the patterns of inequality within organizations. Yes, men make more money than women, but how that works is very different across different organizations and places and times, and the dispersion is different, and the patterns of dispersion change, and all that variation gives us leverage to understand how inequality works, but also where policy and law can intervene. Because if you have a range of practices, and you can see the consequences of the range of practices, that’s where you get something like the idea for a policy – we should do more of this and less of this, and so on. So that variation is key, and having it at the organizational level is important.

They set out a really useful research agenda. They talk a lot about workplace ethnographies and surveys, and various ways that organizational dynamics of inequality have been studied, and the research agenda that emerges has to do with comparative organizational studies, with attention to the role of external influences on organizations. So the gold standard is sort of multi-organizational research where the context is carefully considered between the different organizations and the workings of the relations within the organizations, and hopefully between them.

The relational framework they have here is sort of Charles Tilly’s Durable Inequality plus Cecilia Ridgeway – that’s my background reading on this, which is kind of thin, admittedly. And so it’s categories and the durableness of them within institutions and organizations, and putting people into cognitive categories and how that represents the integration of social structure into personality and interaction and so on. So that’s sort of the frame, which I think is really useful.

And then the moral framework they have is very clear, at the end; and the policies they give us to talk about, both “what about worker cooperatives,” and, “what about a universal basic income” – sort of state level and organizational level policies that address the variety of problems and inequalities that we have.

Organizations and inequality

A key question, and a motivating question for them, is what is the role of organizations in the wider system of inequality – that is, are they creating inequality, are they reflecting inequality that comes to them from the outside of the organization, what’s their role in the reproduction of inequality. And so you have the organization – it’s a workplace, which is mostly what they talk about – and there are things coming at it from the outside: cognitive categories and hierarchies, status between groups, privilege groups, esteem groups, minority groups that are less privileged and so on. And then there’s a law and regulatory policy environment that they’re working within, there are market conditions that they’re working within, and then there are the workers that are coming to them with their range of unequal skills and education, their health, their social capital, their histories of incarceration – everything that workers bring to the organization. So you could ignore organizations and say, look we have all this inequality out there, outside the organization, and the organization is basically just sort of applying formulas to this: “Well, men are privileged over women, so we pay them a little bit more, we discriminate against people with criminal records, if you don’t have the skills to do the job you’re out, if you’re health is not good, if you have children, if you can’t show up…” You could think of organizations as just sort of administering the system of inequality, the structures of inequality that they’re in, or you can think of them as implementing or enacting the inequality. So until the organization gets its hands on it, all that inequality is sort of not really operationalized, it’s not really functioning – the status inequality between men and women doesn’t really happen until somebody decides to pay the man more than the woman. That’s sort of their view, not necessarily – [Don: “I agree”] – not necessarily true, but that’s the question, are organizations doing that, or they just sort of receiving that.

And the authors point out – I’ll give you a little taste of this (p. 14): “Most inequalities are generated through the relationships in and around workplaces.” That’s a very strong statement, although “most” is a little bit vague, it’s 51% to 99%. That clearly gives you a strong reason to focus on workplaces, and it’s somewhat debatable.

And they point out in a footnote (p. 58): “Obviously, power can be exercised as violence in addition to discursive claims-making [so it’s not just people debating over rewards within organizations]. Strong-armed robbery and colonial conquest are examples of violent exploitation, genocide, ethnic cleansing, political suppression via arrest of social movements’ claims of dignity and access are the violent faces of closure.” Well, none of that stuff is happening within workplaces. So if you think colonial conquest, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and political suppression are important parts of inequality, and we know that those aren’t happening within workplaces, you know the field is generating a lot of inequality outside workplaces. You have to weigh that up against their, “most of inequality comes from within workplaces,” And to their credit, it’s an empirical question, which they note. It’s hard to quantify and it’s kind of pointless to quantify but the question is where should our focus be?

By the time they’re to their conclusion, they write, “We are not arguing that only organizations matter for inequality,” ok, they are definitely not arguing that – but if you have to say that, it’s obviously relevant, so that’s a question. It really is an organizations manifesto, the book, the importance of organizations, and it makes the case very strongly. It’s extremely useful and valuable and informative. And the fact that they make the claims really strongly helps motivate it and make it clear. And whether I want to argue about whether it’s 51% or 80% of inequality that comes from workplaces, for most uses of it that’s not the point.

Related to the question of what organizations do – whether they’re creating or reflecting – is inequality, unequal what? What are we talking about? Most obviously money, some people have more money than others. But especially when you’re talking about intersectional questions, are race and class and gender just three different ways of deciding who’s going to have how much money? No, it’s much more than money, it’s cultural in terms of who’s valued and esteemed, and who gets to set the discourse, and it’s status in terms of whose opinions get respected, and voice within organizations, and it’s also geographic with segregation, and so on. And so they talk a lot about “organizational resources” being what’s at issue. Whenever I teach inequality I push sociology grad students to get beyond thinking of all these status inequalities as being different ways of deciding how much money we get. And especially, what is the content of the inequality. Unequal amounts of what are we actually talking about? And that’s why I think the feminist discourse over sexuality is so important. Because control over sexuality is sort of orthogonal to the amount of money that you have – it’s obviously related, but it’s a different quality. So that stuff is really important and there’s a lot of food for thought on that here.

I mentioned genocide and ethnic cleansing, and there are other things which are happening outside organizations that are relevant. Things that happen outside workplaces, that may be in other organizations: welfare, taxation, the education system, residential segregation, incarceration – these are all things that are packaging inequality that arrive at the doorstep of the workplace. So I’ll give two possible policy ideas that are totally outside workplaces: if we had a 90% marginal tax rate on upper incomes, you might say, “who cares about inequality within organizations?” You get rich, and the government takes your money and gives it to poorer people. And so that lowers the stakes. And partly they focus on organizations because in the United States we don’t do that. And so that question of how much empirically are organizations creating of the system of inequality, is partly that number is higher because we don’t have that kind of society. So it’s not a statement about how inequality will always forever work, it’s really driven by the reality that we have now. And the other policy challenge to thinking organizationally is reparations. If the government stepped in and had a big reparations program and orientation, that is totally outside of individual workplaces, what would that do? So those are just things to think about.

Education

Their attitude toward education is interesting. And it’s – what do you call that when it’s not traditional, it’s not “heretic,” it’s very challenging. [The word I was looking for is “heterodox.”] They basically treat education as a proxy for claims-making resources. So the amount of education people have, when they get to the workplace, allows them to essentially bargain for or demand more or less money. Which, if you’ve ever had surgery, from a doctor, you want your surgeon to have gone to medical school. [Don: “You want your surgeon to be a good surgeon.”] Right, exactly. In our system, the proxy for that is that they’ve gone to medical school, and the board certifying and all that. So their issue is how much doctors are paid, not who gets to be a doctor. They’re not talking about inequality in the education system, all the things that create the unequal distribution of medical education.

Consider this also: there are limits to the organizational variation in this. There are no organizations in the United States that let people perform surgery without medical degrees. So that’s something very strong coming from the external reality that workplaces have to deal with. They can only hire people with medical degrees to do surgery, and surgery is very valued, it commands a lot of money in the market. So if they’re going to say “wages and jobs are organizational phenomena,” which they say, and education is this way of making claims on those things, then it’s interesting to push them on this issue of who gets to have the education. They say, sort of grudgingly in my opinion, yes, sometimes educational credentialing has to do with the skills required to do the job, but basically it’s about how much money you can extract from your employer. That’s why I focus on surgery, because lots of other education is just a cruder proxy for particular skills and whatnot.

They review literature on how factories work in Mexico and the U.S., including within the same multinational company, and the gender difference between maquiladoras. But if you think globally, the difference between a doctor in the U.S. and a factory worker in Mexico, and the vast inequality in resources they command, is not determined by the practices of their organizations, right? And an interesting thing about doctors in particular, is we pay a fortune in this country because the government (because of doctors) doesn’t let foreign doctors come practice here. Our doctors get paid ridiculously high amounts (Dean Baker, the economist, has written very compellingly about this). If we allowed foreign doctors to come here, foreign doctors would make a lot more money than they’re making, our doctors would make less money, and we would all pay less for equally good healthcare. So that’s a state policy, and not something that the hospitals can address.

While we’re thinking about the external factors, and I’m pushing them on this, they do a little review of Devah Pager’s work, “the mark of a criminal record” – employers don’t hire people with criminal records – so is that a problem of employer practices or is that a problem of mass incarceration and the distribution of criminal records? It’s both, but you couldn’t understand it by only studying the practices of employers, because that’s not a fixed quantity of a randomly distributed stigma.

So when you get to the intersectional stuff – consider race, class, and gender in our system of inequality. They point out gender and race integration in education “led to a weakening of gender and race based closure” (and that shows up in Don and Kevin’s previous book, and that’s reviewed here). So there’s less job segregation by race and gender than there used to be, and less exclusion, “while leaving unchallenged, or perhaps even strengthening, education based closure.” Well, by one way of thinking, of course, if race and gender are becoming less determinative of workplace outcomes, and education is becoming more determinative, that’s literally the goal of rational modern society, is to stop with the ascriptive criteria, and start using rational educational criteria, for skills and productivity. So they’re all up in arms about this, but it’s interesting to say, well, wait a second isn’t that kind of the point, like meritocracy. “There is an intersectional reality weakening closure on the basis of race and gender even as closure rules around education remain hegemonic.” So it would be worth it to explain, and I guess they do explain, why they think this is not the definition of progress. I’m being provocative. It’s not like education is fairly distributed, so it’s still all about ascriptive inequalities through the education system.

Between and within organizations

So what about inequality between and within organizations. And here it’s interesting because the world has changed while they were writing this book. In making their case for why organizations are so important, they write, “We are born and die in organizations.” OK, I like that, they obviously think it’s very important. “We spend a great deal of our lives working alongside others in organizations” – and then listen to this list of sort of other things: “We go to one organization to be educated (schools), to another to get income (workplaces), which we then spend in another (stores), in order to bring food and clothing to a fourth (households).” So they’re telling your other organizational fields. What’s interesting is that in schools, stores, and households, there’s more inequality between than within organizations. And so they’re very focused on workplaces, where probably you find more inequality within the organizations. They’re interested in those dynamics: What causes inequality within organizations, why do CEOs make so much, why is there gender segregation in the division of labor, and so on. Interestingly, and the trend over time is probably toward more inequality between. And if you think about families, in the old days, if you had an employed man and three children and a woman who had no income, then you have a tremendous amount of inequality within that organization, within that family. Nowadays if you have two children and the parents both have jobs, you have fewer people with no income and more people with income, and so there’s less within-household inequality, and that’s a trend over time.

In their second-to-last chapter they have a very good discussion about how this is also happening with firms and workplaces in the U.S. So if General Motors outsources their custodial service (I’m just making this up), some big company outsources lower status, or higher status, work, there’s a firm that is less hierarchical somewhere, that’s just all custodians. And there’s a firm that’s just all engineers. And General Motors is like bundling those services. So the inequality is increasingly between organizations there, rather than within. So instead of hierarchy within Amazon being from Bezos to the drivers, the drivers are all contracted, and so on. And Uber, and self-employment, and the gig economy, and all that stuff is sort of like if every Uber driver is an organization the way Uber thinks they are, then the inequality is all between organizations.

And so that’s the direction of social change, and it’s a challenge for their theory. If their theory is focused on inequality within firms, and organizations, then what’s happening in world, and how does their theory address this? And they say, “even if there were no internal inequalities within firms, there still might be considerable inequality between firms, as a function of firm resource inequality.” So they’re sort of already projecting to a world where every company had no inequality within it. We’re not there at all, but their answer to that is maybe more aspirational than empirical, and I think it’s debatable, and it’s worth debating, it’s: “The processes governing inequality between organizations is fundamentally the same as that governing inequality within organizations: relational claims-making, exploitation, and social closure.” OK, that’s a very strong statement. It says we’ve sketched out this whole theory about how inequality works within organizations, we see that the world is moving toward inequality between organizations, and we’re going to apply the concepts that we’ve developed to this new reality also. And that is a challenge for future work in this area. And so I’m not expecting them to have established this empirically before they do it, but that’s their case.

That’s one of the many examples of the great research agenda that comes out of this really interesting and important work. And with that I close. Thank you.

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Let’s raise the legal age of marriage in Maryland

Today I sent the following letter to the Maryland House Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on these bills tomorrow. Under current law in Maryland, marriage is permitted as young as age 15 with parental consent and evidence of pregnancy or childbirth, and age 16-17 with one or the other, and these exceptions are granted by county clerks rather than judges. By my calculations, from 2008 to 2017, based on the American Community Survey, the annual marriage rate for girls ages 15-16 was 5 per 1000 in Maryland, behind only Hawaii, Nevada, and West Virginia. HB 855 would raise the age at marriage to 18, while HB 1147 would establish an emancipated minor status, requiring review by a judge, under which 17-year-olds could marry. For more on the effort to end child marriage in the U.S., visit the Tahirih Justice Center site.


March 6, 2019

To the House Judiciary Committee:

I write in support of Maryland House Bill 855, concerning age requirements for marriage; and House Bill 1147, concerning the emancipation of minors.

My relevant background

  • I am a Professor of Sociology, and family demographer, at the University of Maryland, College Park, where I have been on the faculty since 2012. I also earned my PhD at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1999, and I live in Silver Spring.
  • I have written two books and many peer-reviewed articles on family sociology, including on topics related to marriage and divorce, family structure, gender inequality, health and disability, infant mortality, adoption, race and ethnicity, and the division of labor.
  • I have served as a consultant to the U.S. Census Bureau on the measurement of family structure, and testified before Congress on gender discrimination.

My support of the bills

In general, the rise of the age at marriage and childbearing in U.S. have been positive developments for women and children, allowing mothers to devote more years of early adulthood to education and career development, which is beneficial to both adults and their children.

Very early marriage in particular is detrimental to women’s opportunity to finish high school. More urgently, research and service work shows that very early marriage is usually unwanted, coerced, or forced. Very young women should not be expected to protect themselves legally or socially from such impositions, which are usually from older men and dominant family members. Very early marriage often follows statutory rape or other sexual assault, compounding rather than mitigating the harms of these crimes against children. Rather than protect a young woman, very early marriage instead provides protection from scrutiny for her abuser(s), and makes state intervention on her behalf all the more difficult to accomplish in the following years. The privacy and discretion we bestow upon families has benefits, of course, but it also makes the family a dangerous place for the victims of abuse.

Research, including my own, unequivocally shows that very early marriage leads to the highest rates of divorce. I have written several papers on divorce rates in the United States (see references). For illustration, here I used the same method of analysis, and present only the relationship between age at marriage and incidence of divorce. As you can see from the figure, divorce rates are highest by far – estimated at 2.5% per year – for women who married before age 18. This is about twice as high as divorce rates for those who marry in their 30s, for example. (These estimates hold constant other factors; data and code are available here.) The evidence is very strong.

predicted odds of divorce by aam

I only reluctantly support increasing state restrictions on women’s freedom with regard to family choices, but in the case of marriage before adulthood I see the restriction as a protection from the exploitative behavior of others, rather than an imposition on young women’s rights.

At present in Maryland, exceptions allowing marriage before age 18 – based on pregnancy and/or parental consent – are granted without adequate legal review. Together, HB 855 and HB 1147 would set the minimum age at marriage in Maryland to 18, with an exception only for court emancipated minors of age 17. This would improve the state’s protection of young women from unwanted, coerced, forced, or ill-advised marriages without unduly restricting the freedom to marry for younger women (age 17), who may be emancipated by a court after a direct application and careful review of circumstances.

I urge your support for these bills. I would be happy to provide further information or testimony at your request.

Sincerely,

Philip N. Cohen

References

Cohen, Philip N. 2015. “Recession and Divorce in the United States, 2008-2011. Population Research and Policy Review 33(5):615-628.

Cohen, Philip N. 2018. “The Coming Divorce Decline.” SocArXiv. November 14. https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/h2sk6. To be presented at the Population Association of America meetings, 2019.

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Googling “Lost in Translation” versus “nativity scenes” across state political identities

Gallup’s tracking poll asks people “whether they describe their political views as liberal, moderate or conservative.” They released state rates for these identities yesterday. It’s useful for people who need current data on political characteristics of states. This is their map:

vbxijunpyuoyr2wdggsc3g

I put the conservative-liberal gap, and the liberal-conservative gap, into Google Correlate, to see what searches are correlated with each index. The results are quite similar to the ones I got in September 2016 when I did this with 538’s predicted Clinton versus Trump margins. (Google doesn’t say exactly what period the searches cover.)

Google gives you the top 100 most-correlated searches with each index you upload. These are the ones correlated with the conservative-liberal difference, with my coding categories:

conlib

Here are the liberal-conservative correlated terms:

libcon

Draw your own conclusions. Fun coding exercise. Remember these aren’t the most common searches in conservative or liberal states, they’re the most correlated, meaning the most common ones in liberal states that are also uncommon in conservatives states, and vice versa.

Google outputs the numbers as z-scores, each search term having a mean of 0 and standard deviation of 1. And once you get them for the two different sets of correlations you can merge them together to see, for example, the negative correlation between searches for Lost in Translation (liberal) and nativity scenes (conservative):

litnat

Or vegetarian food and cook steaks:

vegcook

I did look at the “moderate” rates, and they yielded a bland list with nothing remarkable — things like “men’s volleyball shoes” and “print screen.” Also, Google couldn’t find a lot of search terms highly correlated with the “moderate” prevalence, the top correlation was only .73, versus .90-.92 for the liberals and conservatives. The average state is 36% moderate but the category seems to mean little.

Anyway, I love this stuff. You can see a whole series of these under the Google tag.

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White children are 2.7-times more likely than Black children to live with a parent who has a PhD

For a reflection Amy Harmon was working on, a followup to her article on the experience of Black mathematicians in American academia, I took a shot at the question: How many children have parents with PhDs?

The result was the highlighted passage (17 words and a link!) in her piece:

[all the racial biases that contribute to Black underrepresentation include] the well-documented racial disparities in public-school resources, the selection of students for gifted programs — and the fact that having a parent with a Ph.D. is helpful to getting one in math, while black children are less than half as likely as white children to live with such a parent.

To get there: I used data from the U.S. Census Bureau via IPUMS.org: The 1990 5% Public Use Microdata Sample (decennial census); and the 2000, 2010, and 2017 American Community Surveys.

I coded race/ethnicity into four mutually-exclusive categories: Single-race White, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander (API); and Hispanic (including those of any race). I dropped from the analysis non-Hispanic children with multiple races reported, and American Indian / Alaska Natives (for whom about 0.5 percent lived with a PhD parent in 2017).

IPUMS made a tool that attaches values of parents’ variables to children with whom they share a household. I used that to calculate the highest level of education of each child’s coresident parents. In the Census data, children may have up to two parents present (which may be of the same sex in 2010 and 2017). Children living with no parent in the household were not included.

This let me calculate the percentage of children living (at the moment of the survey) with one or more parents who had a PhD. For each of the four groups the percentage of children living with a parent who has a PhD roughly doubled between 1990 and 2017. API children had the highest chance of living with a PhD parent, reaching 6.8 percent in 2017. The percentages for the other groups were: Whites, 2.7 percent; Blacks, 1.0 percent; and Hispanics, 0.7 percent:

pe1

The 2.7% for White children, versus, 1.0% for Black children, is the basis for her statement above.

Details (including the whole parents’ education distribution), data, codebook, and code, are available on the Open Science Framework at: https://osf.io/ry3zt/ under CC-BY 4.0 license.

Math bias

Both of Amy’s pieces are important reading for academics in many disciplines, including sociology, to reflect on the experience of Black colleagues in the environments we inherit and reproduce.

With regard to math, Amy points out that Black exclusion is not just about denying economic opportunity, it’s also about denying the public the benefits of all the lost Black math talents — and about denying Black potential mathematicians the joy and satisfaction of a passion for math realized.

As Daniel Zaharopol, the director of a program for mathematically talented low-income middle-school students, put it when I interviewed him for a 2017 article: “Math is beautiful, and being a part of that should not be limited to just some people.”

And Amy makes a good case that math bias and its outcomes contribute directly to racism much more broadly:

Some misguided people claim that there are not many black research mathematicians because African-Americans are not as intelligent as other races. These people, whom I have reported on for other stories in recent months, almost invariably use mathematical accomplishment as their yardstick for intelligence. They note that no individuals of African descent have won the Fields Medal, math’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. They lack any genetic evidence to explain the gap in average I.Q. scores between white and black Americans that they cite as the basis of their belief, or reason to think that a genetic trait would be impervious to social or educational intervention, or that high I.Q. is key to math ability, which Timothy Gowers, a 1998 Fields medalist, has attributed largely to “the capacity to become obsessed with a math problem.”

But I have been reporting on these topics for several years, and I am acutely aware that math prowess factors heavily into the popular conception of intelligence. There’s a vicious cycle at work: The lack of African-American representation in math can end up feeding pernicious biases, which in turn add to the many obstacles mathematically talented minorities face. Which was one more reason it seemed especially important to hold up to the light all the racial biases that contribute to that underrepresentation.

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About Charles Murray: Is a White man’s cross burning as disqualifying as blackface?

“People are saying” that we need to think about how to interpret, and possibly punish, past racism, relative to current racism. This is as much about the meaning of “past” as it is about the meaning of “racism.” It’s about individual suspected racists — specifically leading Virginia Democrats — and about the intersection of individual and institutional racism, as preserved and displayed in yearbooks, as in this photo of the University of Illinois KKK chapter in 1924, which included representation from each fraternity on campus:

Politicians are a special case, because their authority is in theory dependent on the legitimating consent of the governed. On the other hand are regular individuals, for whom being labeled a racist is among the harshest reputational penalties we have. More important than individuals is how they add up to groups, organizations, and institutions.

Then there are powerful individuals representing institutional interests, such as Charles Murray, who spent decades on the dole of non-profit organizations funded by the foundations of the rich (in other words, you). He built an extremely influential career blaming poverty on inborn deficiencies (“born lazy“) among the Black poor and providing scientific cover for dismantling government support for meeting their needs.

Why burn that cross

In the grand scheme maybe it doesn’t matter whether Charles Murray (now an emeritus at age 76) is, or was, racist in his heart — his work was racist in its effects (White supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof parroted Murray in his rationale for murdering Black people in church.) However, he and his defenders have always impugned those who assign racist motives to his work. He clearly believes in a biological racial hierarchy in genetic intelligence, which is an old-fashioned definition of racism. The new scientific racists, a coalition that includes Murray, defends itself from that charge by claiming it’s not racist if it’s true, and it has fallen to human geneticists to debunk their claims. The charge of racism has always weakened the legitimacy of Murray and his compatriots, and narrowed their reach. As I think it should — you don’t need to know what was in his heart to think his work was terrible, but it’s relevant.

Shawn Fremstad reminded me that Murray and his friends burned a cross in 1960, which seems like a good thing to dredge up during racist-yearbook week. Here is the very cursory story, in a 1994 New York Times profile for the release of his book The Bell Curve.

While there is much to admire about the industry and inquisitiveness of Murray’s teen-age years, there is at least one adventure that he understandably deletes from the story — the night he helped his friends burn a cross. They had formed a kind of good guys’ gang, “the Mallows,” whose very name, from marshmallows, was a play on their own softness. In the fall of 1960, during their senior year, they nailed some scrap wood into a cross, adorned it with fireworks and set it ablaze on a hill beside the police station, with marshmallows scattered as a calling card.

[Denny] Rutledge recalls his astonishment the next day when the talk turned to racial persecution in a town with two black families. “There wouldn’t have been a racist thought in our simple-minded minds,” he says. “That’s how unaware we were.”

A long pause follows when Murray is reminded of the event. “Incredibly, incredibly dumb,” he says. “But it never crossed our minds that this had any larger significance. And I look back on that and say, ‘How on earth could we be so oblivious?’ I guess it says something about that day and age that it didn’t cross our minds.”

This is a very incomplete story, which doesn’t even tell us who first told the tale of the cross burning, or what reason that person gave for it, or how they picked the location. But reading this, my sociological opinion is that “dumb” is likely a dodge; and my sociological question is, if they had no idea of the “larger significance” of cross burning, in 1960, why do it? There were lots of dumb things to do. My sociological approach to this question is to investigate the context in which this cross burning occurred, both in the social environment and in Murray’s life course trajectory.

The fall of 1960, the beginning of Murray’s senior year of high school, was when he would have been applying to Harvard, which he went off to in 1961 (he was a history major). It was also a time when cross burning was in the news a lot, including in Iowa.

 The 1960 Census recorded 15,000 people in the idyllic cross-burning town of Newton, where Murray’s father was a Maytag executive. And there were only 22 Black people recorded in Jasper county (where Newton is the principal city). Does this mean race was not an issue in the minds of Murray’s gang? I’m very doubtful. Blacks were a noticeable, and noticeably growing, presence in Iowa cities, including Des Moines, just 30 miles from Newton. (The new Interstate 80 hadn’t connected Newton and Des Moines yet, but sections of it were already built west of Des Moines, and it was penciled in on the map.) During the 1950s the state’s nonwhite population increased about 70%, from 17,000 to 29,000. In fact, the 1950s were the biggest decade for Black migration to Iowa. Almost all of them lived in urban areas, including Des Moines. The city had 209,000 people, of which 10,700 (5%) were nonwhite (mostly Black) by 1960.

So, do you think a 1960 White executive’s family would have heard anything about the nonwhite population of the nearest city nearly doubling in the previous decade? Did aw-shucks Murray and his pool hall buddies know about all that big city stuff?

We have some other evidence from which to speculate. Murray traveled around the state, and even the country, in his high school years. He was on Newton High School’s “Crack Debate Team” that won several statewide tournaments, including one at the University of Iowa in Iowa City in April 1960. And that summer the debate team roadtripped to California, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce, for a national tournament. (What did they debate, anyway?)

Picture of Newton debate team, including Charles Murray, in 1960Des Moine Register, June 15, 1960.

So in 1960 Murray was the son of an executive, and a debate team champion, traveling the state and country, and applying to Harvard, while living in the next county over from a city with a booming Black population. Oh, and it was 1960: the year civil rights protesters staged sit-ins in dozens of cities across the south, from February through April.

By my count there were 55 articles in the Des Moines Register/Tribune archives mentioning cross burning during his high school years, 1955 to 1960. In fact, there were a number of stories about an Iowa City incident, where in April 1960 (yes, that April 1960), eight Beta Theta Pi frat brothers burned a cross on the lawn of the assistant director of student affairs, whose office was “instrumental in the effort to remove race restrictions from the constitutions of several fraternities at the university.” After briefly suspending the men, the university declared it a “prank” and reinstated them on probation:

Clips from Chicago Daily Tribune and Des Moines Tribune, April and May 1960

Maybe it was a pure coincidence having nothing to do with race that the eight frat brothers burned a cross in their “prank.” But why a cross? Also, it was a few weeks after students picketed stores right there in Iowa City to support the sit-ins.

washington times herald article showing rash of cross burnings in south, and mentioning picketers supporting sit-ins in iowa city.

I see a possible parallel between the frat boys and the cross burning by Murray’s marshmallow gang. The story is they had no idea it was about race; decades later, this is the story they recite. Some key White adults helped keep the narrative from getting out of hand. I’d bet the incident didn’t make it into Murray’s Harvard admissions packet, either in his personal essay or in the form of a criminal record. Even though there was “talk” in town the next day.

And they went on about their lives. Murray isn’t an elected office holder, and may be retired. Maybe it’s water under the racist.


Incidentally, I noticed that one of the University of Iowa cross-burning frat boys, Joel E. Swanson, seems to have gone on to become a state district court judge. (I don’t know what happened to their disorderly conduct charge.) He was a freshman in 1960, got his law degree at the University in 1967, while serving in the National Guard, and worked as a lawyer in his home town of Lake City, eventually became a judge and then retiring in 2012. Also, they have recipes.

swanson

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I spent my semester as an MIT / CREOS Visiting Scholar and it was excellent

PNC in Cambridge in the fall.

Cambridge in the fall.

As a faculty sociologist who works in the area of family demography and inequality, my interest in open scholarship falls into the category of “service” among my academic obligations, essentially unrecognized and unremunerated by my employer, and competing with research and teaching responsibilities for my time. In that capacity I founded SocArXiv in 2016 (supported by several small grants) and serve as its director, organized two conferences at the University of Maryland under the title O3S: Open Scholarship for the Social Sciences, and I was elected to the Committee on Publications of the American Sociological Association. While continuing that work during a sabbatical leave, I was extremely fortunate to land a half-time position as visiting scholar at the MIT Libraries in the fall 2018, which helped me integrate that service agenda with an emerging research agenda around scholarly communication.

The position was sponsored by a group of libraries organized by the Association of Research Libraries — MIT, UCLA, the University of Arizona, Ohio State University, and the University of Pittsburgh — and hosted by the new Center for Research on Equitable and Open Scholarship (CREOS) at MIT. My principal collaborator has been Micah Altman, the director of research at CREOS.

The semester was framed by the MIT Grand Challenges Summit in the spring, which I attended, and the report that emerged from that meeting: A Grand Challenges-Based Research Agenda for Scholarly Communication and Information Science, on which I was a collaborator. The report, published in December, describes a vision for a more inclusive, open, equitable, and sustainable future for scholarship; it also characterizes the barriers to this future, and identifies the research needed to bring it to fruition.

Sociology and SocArXiv

Furthering my commitments to sociology and SocArXiv, I continued to work on the service. SocArXiv is growing, with increased participation in sociology and other social sciences. In the fall the Center for Open Science, our host, opened discussions with its paper serving communities about weaning the system off its core foundation financial support and using contributions from each service to make it sustainable (thus far have not paid COS for its develop and hosting). This was an expected challenge, which will require some creative and difficult work in the coming months.

Finally, at the start of the semester I noted that most sociologists — even those interested in open access issues — were not familiar with current patterns, trends, and debates in the scholarly communications ecosystem. This has hampered our efforts to build SocArXiv, as well as our ability to press our associations and institutions for policy changes in the direction of openness, equity, and sustainability. In response to this need, especially among graduate students and junior scholars, I drafted a scholarly communication primer for sociology, which reviews major scholarly communication media, policies, economic actors, and recent innovations. I posted a long draft (~13,000 words) for comment in January, and received a very positive response. It appears that a number of programs will incorporate the revised primer into their training, and many individuals are already reading and sharing it with their networks.

Peer review

One of the chief barriers identified in the Grand Challenges report is the lack of systematic theory and empirical evidence to design and guide legal, economic, policy and organizational interventions in scholarly publishing and in the knowledge ecosystem generally. As social scientists, Micah and I drew on this insight, and used the case of peer-review in sociology as an entry point. We presented our formative analysis of this case in the CREOS Research Talk, “Can Fix Peer Review.” Here is the summary of this talk:

Contemporary journal peer review is beset by a range of problems. These include (a) long delay times to publication, during which time research is inaccessible; (b) weak incentives to conduct reviews, resulting in high refusal rates as the pace of journal publication increases; (c) quality control problems that produce both errors of commission (accepting erroneous work) and omission (passing over important work, especially null findings); (d) unknown levels of bias, affecting both who is asked to perform peer review and how reviewers treat authors, and; (e) opacity in the process that impedes error correction and more systematic learning, and enables conflicts of interest to pass undetected. Proposed alternative practices attempt to address these concerns — especially open peer review, and post-publication peer review. However, systemic solutions will require revisiting the functions of peer review in its institutional context.

The full slides, with embedded video of the talk (minus the first few minutes) is embedded below:

Research design and intervention

Mapping out the various interventions and proposed alternatives in the peer review space raised a number of questions about how to design and evaluate interventions in a complex system with interdependent parts and actors embedded in different institutional logics — for example, university researchers (some working under state policy), research libraries, for-profit publishers, and academic societies. Working with Jessica Polka, Director of ASAPbio, we are expanding this analysis to consider a range of innovations open science. This analysis highlights the need for systematic research design that can guide the design of initiatives aimed at altering the scholarly knowledge ecosystem.

Applying the ecosystem approach in the Grand Challenges report, we consider large-scale interventions in public health and safety, and their unintended consequences, to build a model for designing projects with the intention of identifying and assessing such consequences across the system. Addressing problems at scale may have such unintended effects as leading vulnerable populations to adapt to new technology in harmful ways (mosquito nets used for fishing); providing new opportunities for harmful competitors (the pesticide treadmill); the displacement of private actors by public goods (dentists driven away by public water fluoridation); and risk compensation by those who receive public protection (anti-lock brakes and riskier driving, vaccinations). Our forthcoming white paper will address such risks in light of recent open science interventions: PLOS One, bioRxiv and preprints generally, and open peer review, among others. We combine research design methods for field experiments in social science, outcomes identified in the grand challenge report, and the ecosystem theory based on an open science lifecycle model.

ARL/SSRC meeting and Next Steps

Coming out of discussions at the first O3S meeting, in December the Association of Research Libraries and the Social Science Research Council convened a meeting on open scholarship in the social sciences, which included leaders from scholarly societies, university libraries, researchers advocating for open science, funders, and staff from ARL, SSRC, and the Coalition for Networked Information. I was fortunate to participate on the planning committee for the meeting, and in that capacity I conducted a series of short video interviews with individual stakeholders from the participating organizations to help expose us all to the range of values, objectives, and concerns we bring to the questions we collectively face in the movement toward open scholarship.

For our own work on peer review, which we presented at the meeting, I was especially drawn to the interviewees’ comments on transparency, incentives, and open infrastructure. In particular, MIT Libraries Director Chris Bourg challenged social scientists to recognize what their own research implies for the peer review system:

Brian Nosek, director of the Center for Open Science, stressed to the need to consider incentives for openness in our interventions:

And Kathleen Fitzpatrick, project director for Humanities Commons, described the necessity of open infrastructure that is flexibly interoperable, allowing parallel use by actors on diverse platforms:

These insights about intervention principles for an open scholarly ecosystem helped Micah and me develop a proposal for discussion at the meeting. Our proposed program, IOTA (I Owe The Academy) aims to solve the supply-and-demand problem for quality peer review in open science interventions (the name is likely to change). We understand that most academics are willing to do peer review when it contributes to a better system of scholarship. At the same time, new peer review projects need (good) reviewers in order to launch successfully. And the community needs (good) empirical research on the peer review process itself. The solution is to match reviewers with initiatives that promote better scholarship using a virtual token system, whereby reviewers pledge review effort units, which are distributed to open peer review projects — while collecting data for use in evaluation and assessment. After receiving positive feedback at the meeting, we will develop this proposal further.

Our presentation is embedded in full below:

A report on the ARL/SSRC meeting describes the shared interests, challenges to openness, and conditions for successful action discussed by participants. And it includes five specific projects they agreed to pursue — one of which is peer review on the SocArXiv and PsyArXiv paper platforms.

What’s next…

In the coming several months we expect to produce a white paper on research design, a proposal for IOTA, and a presentation for the Coalition for Networked Information meeting in April, to spark a discussion about the ways libraries can jointly support additional targeted work to promote, inspire, and support evidence-based research. And a revised version of the scholarly communication primer for sociology is on the way.

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Family Demography seminar syllabus

Sabbatical over

Syllabuses done

Welcome all students

Come many come one


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Shanghai Museum, Summer 2017 (photo PNC, Flickr CC)

Here is my revised syllabus for a graduate seminar in family demography. Comments and suggestions always welcome. This is just the reading list, but the bureaucratic parts are available in the PDF version. A lot of the papers are paywalled, but you can get most by pasting the DOIs into the sci-hub pirate site search box (if it’s not blocked where you are.)

Week 1

Theoretical perspectives in demography

Week 2

Demographic transition

Week 3

Fertility in poor countries

Week 4

Second demographic transition

Week 5

U.S. History

Week 6

Marriage and social class

  • Cherlin, Andrew J. 2014. Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Cohen, Philip N. 2014. The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Chapter 8, “Marriage and cohabitation.”

Week 7

Divorce

Week 8

Transition to adulthood

Week 9

Women and families in Asia and Africa

  • Yeung, Wei-Jun Jean, Sonalde Desai, and Gavin W. Jones. 2018. “Families in Southeast and South Asia.” Annual Review of Sociology 44 (1): 469–95. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-073117-041124.
  • Desai, Sonalde, and Lester Andrist. 2010. “Gender Scripts and Age at Marriage in India.” Demography 47 (3): 667–87.
  • Clark, Shelley, Sangeetha Madhavan, Cassandra Cotton, Donatien Beguy, and Caroline Kabiru. 2017. “Who Helps Single Mothers in Nairobi? The Role of Kin Support.” Journal of Marriage and Family 79 (4): 1186–1204. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12404.

Week 10

U.S. economic conditions and family outcomes

Week 11

Policy, race, and nonmarital births

Week 12

More U.S. inequality issues

  • Brady, David, Ryan M. Finnigan, and Sabine Hübgen. 2017. “Rethinking the Risks of Poverty: A Framework for Analyzing Prevalences and Penalties.” American Journal of Sociology 123 (3): 740–86. https://doi.org/10.1086/693678.
  • Western, Bruce, and Christopher Wildeman. 2009. “The Black Family and Mass Incarceration.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621 (1): 221–242.
  • Two selections from Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality (2015) edited by Paul R. Amato, Alan Booth, Susan M. McHale, and Jennifer Van Hook, 3–23. National Symposium on Family Issues 5. Springer International Publishing.
    • McLanahan, Sara, and Wade Jacobsen. “Diverging Destinies Revisited.”
    • Cohen, Philip N. 2015. “Divergent Responses to Family Inequality.”

Week 13

Family structure and child wellbeing

Week 14

Maternal mortality

 Week 15

Immigrant families

  • Menjívar, Cecilia, Leisy J. Abrego, and Leah C. Schmalzbauer. 2016. Immigrant Families. John Wiley & Sons.

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