Sociology

The New York Times Magazine on Alice Goffman

January 13, 2016
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The New York Times Magazine on Alice Goffman

The controversy surrounding Alice Goffman’s On the Run is nothing new—the book’s appearance was met with both laudatory curiosity and defensive criticism, from within and outside academic sociology. On the Run offers an ethnographic account based on Goffman’s work in the field—and the field happens to be a mixed-income, West Philadelphia neighborhood, whose largely African American residents lived their lives under the persistence presence of the cops, whose pervasive policing left Goffman’s subjects, the members of her community, caught in a web of presumed criminality. The elephant(s) in the room: how does a privileged white woman engage in this kind of (often passé) participant-observer research without constantly self-checking her positionality? How can this type of book—and its more sensational elements—be true to the word? Who has permission to write about whom? And what happens when these questions leave the back-and-forth behind the closed doors of the academy and bring up very real suggestions about legal culpability, fabrication, and the politics of representation? In a long-form piece for the New York Times Magazine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus assesses Goffman’s predicament and how her personal experiences shaped several of the more controversial aspects of the book’s account. All the while, he traces the book’s emergence during a crucial (and heated) moment for the . . .

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Excerpt: Masters of Uncertainty

December 4, 2015
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Excerpt: Masters of Uncertainty

Excerpt: Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth  by Phaedra Daipha *** PRODUCING THE WEATHER FORECAST Protecting America’s life and property against the calamities of the weather is a daunting task to manage, above and beyond the formidable meteorological challenges involved. There is a tremendous range of “weather” for the NWS to keep an eye on: land weather, airport weather, marine weather, fire weather, hydrologic weather. To properly protect America’s life and property against the calamities of the weather, therefore, NWS forecast offices are operational around the clock.“The weather never sleeps and neither do we” is the usual stock phrase Neborough forecasters use to enlighten outsiders about their schedule and, by extension, their importance. The primary responsibility of an NWS forecast office, of course, is to advise and alert about the potential for hazardous weather. Only when hazardous weather warning requirements have been met do forecasters turn their attention to routine products and services. Indeed, during a hazardous weather event, the NWS becomes transformed into what Fine (2007, 40) calls an“activated organization . . . verging on being overwhelmed and understaffed, until routine can again be established.” In this, NWS forecasters readily resemble firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders— . . .

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Judy Wacjman on digital serfdom and the future of work

October 29, 2015
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Judy Wacjman on digital serfdom and the future of work

  In a piece for Pacific Standard, as part of their Future of Work series, in collaboration with the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, Judy Wacjman tackled themes from her recent book Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism, which accounted for our paradoxical desire to interpret our experience of digital technology as bound up with the hastening of everyday life: Such anxieties are based on a fundamental misreading of the relationship between humans and machines. I have been researching technological change for 30 years, and one thing I’ve learned is that technology never simply speeds things up. Rather, every major technological innovation comes hand in hand with new activities and experiences, creating new ways of working and socializing. Indeed, often as not, its effects are counter-intuitive and contradictory, surprising even the designers. So the very same devices that can make us feel overworked and harried also enable us to work more efficiently and take more control of our time. In other words, the notion that we are all cyber-serfs, technologically tethered workers, is far too one-dimensional. It attributes too much power and agency to technology itself. While it is true that we have all . . .

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The In$ane Chicago Way

October 6, 2015
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The In$ane Chicago Way

John M. Hagedorn’s The In$ane Chicago Way mines the secret history of the attempt to form a Spanish Mafia by Chicago gangs in the 1990s—including why it failed—in order to examine and contextualize our current potential to intervene in and reduce gang-related violence. Hagedorn was recently interviewed by Milt Rosenberg (podcast in full here), and submitted his book to the scrutiny of the Page 99 Test, both of which you can access online, including an excerpt from Page 99 below. And, if you’re in Chicago, you can catch Hagedorn in person at the Great Cities Institute (412 S. Peoria, Suite 400) on Monday, October 19th, at 2:30PM. From the Page 99 Test blog: The In$ane Chicago Way tells a heretofore unknown story of how Chicago Latino gangs tried to create a Spanish mafia and why they failed. In$ane explains how a coalition of Latino gangs, Spanish Growth & Development (SGD), was created by gang leaders to control violence, organize crime, and corrupt police. Law enforcement and even most gang members were not aware of the 10-year existence of SGD which ruled the streets from the Illinois prison system. SGD was not destroyed from outside by arrests but by an internecine war of the families, or . . .

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Culture War? What Is It Good For?

August 19, 2015
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Culture War? What Is It Good For?

An excerpt from Jacqui Shine’s review of Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars at the LA Review of Books: Though the allegiances of the culture wars tend to fall along predictable political lines, Hartman gives special attention to surprising moments of reversal and repetition. He notes, for example, that colorblind conservatism actually marks something of a reversion to an earlier colorblind liberalism, rather than the invention of a new ideological stance from whole cloth. After 1965, Hartman argues, a “reconstructed racial liberalism favored a proactive government that would guarantee black Americans not only ‘equality as a right and a theory’ but also, as the nation’s leading liberal Lyndon Johnson famously put it, ‘equality as a fact and a result.’” The fruit of this strategy was the rise of affirmative action, and “the line that divided opponents in the affirmative action debate … was the line between an older colorblind racial liberalism and a newer color-conscious racial liberalism that had incorporated elements of Black Power into its theoretical framework.” Thus, when conservatives took up the rhetoric of colorblindness to oppose racial quotas, they were repurposing an earlier liberal position. Hartman likewise stresses the . . .

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Heat Wave

June 29, 2015
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Heat Wave

Below follows a brief excerpt from “Heat Wave,” Chicago magazine’s excellent, comprehensive oral history of the week of record-breaking temperatures in July 1995 that killed more than 700 people, became one of the nation’s worst disasters, and left a legacy of unanswered questions about how civic, social, and medical respondents were ill-equipped and unable to contend with trauma on such a scale. *** Mark Cichon, emergency room physician at Chicago Osteopathic Hospital I remember talking to friends at other hospitals who said, “Man, we’re in the middle of a crisis mode.” It was across the city. Our waiting room and the emergency departments were packed. We were going from one emergency to another, all bunched together, almost like a pit crew. The most severe cases were the patients with asthma who were so far into an attack we couldn’t resuscitate them. I remember a woman in her early 30s. The paramedics had already put a tube into her lungs. We were trying to turn her around, but there was nothing that could be done. Eric Klinenberg, sociologist and author of the 2002 book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (to the Chicago Tribune in July 2012) did . . .

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The Culture Wars Are Over?

June 15, 2015
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The Culture Wars Are Over?

From an interview between Micah Uetricht and Andrew Hartman, author of The War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, at In These Times: You write about people on the Left realizing that, in addition to restrictive ideas about gender and race, perhaps the whole American project is rotten to the core, and they need a different way to define themselves. And so there increasingly was no unifying project for the Left to feel a part of anymore—while the average American still probably wanted to be a part of that kind of project. There were some people from the ‘60s onward who saw the whole American project as irredeemable: racist, sexist, imperialist. But for the most part that was a very small minority. Multiculturalists, the people who Schlesinger was arguing against, just wanted the U.S. to reflect what it actually was: a very multicultural society. People wanted to stop the U.S. from thinking of itself as better than others, reject American exceptionalism. But most of these people weren’t giving up the project of the U.S., they just wanted the project to look different. Derrick Bell, the critical race theorist and law professor who I write about in the . . .

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Douglas Mitchell on Donald Levine

June 5, 2015
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Douglas Mitchell on Donald Levine

When sociologist Donald Levine (1931–2015) passed away this April, the Chicago Tribune asked University of Chicago Press executive editor Douglas Mitchell to offer up some remarks on his decades long personal and professional relationship with the longtime University of Chicago professor and former dean of the College. With Mitchell’s permission, they follow, in full, after the jump. *** Don Levine and I go back a ways. In fact, the Chicago Tribune plays a role in my memories because of a “First Person” feature the Trib did about me on June 22, 1986 (you probably remember these full-page bio-vignettes in the Sunday magazine, usually on or near the back page—inspired no doubt by Studs Terkel’s Working, the reporters would sniff out interesting occupations, usually stuff like pizza delivery guy, parking lot attendant, hotel housekeeper, and the like, but then they got the idea of doing a white-collar type). I told the story of how I had been leafing through old files and found a one-paragraph sketch of a book on precision vs. ambiguity in language, and how the worship of precision actually disrupts understanding and relationships. It turned out to be Donald Levine’s book idea. I was smitten. I called him (we had no . . .

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So going around the town(s)

June 3, 2015
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So going around the town(s)

What Stevie Wonder really meant to sing was “no book launch Saturday within the month of June,” and with that in mind, here are some recent images from those book-related fêtes staged a smidge sooner, during the long green march of spring. *** Snapshots from the official book launch for The Big Jones Cookbook: Recipes for Savoring the Heritage of Regional Southern Cooking, featuring Chef (and author) Paul Fehribach, some of his clientele, and a band of University of Chicago Press culinary enthusiasts:     A photograph from the Dublin launch of Gillian O’Brien’s Blood Runs Green: The Murder that Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago (these young readers are actually O’Brien’s nieces and nephew): And, finally, this photograph from Andrew Hartman’s talk about A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars at the In These Times HQ: To read more about books from Chicago’s most recent list, click here. . . .

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Donald N. Levine (1931–2013)

April 24, 2015
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Donald N. Levine (1931–2013)

  Donald L. Levine (1931–2013), the Peter B. Ritzma Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Chicago (where he served as dean of the College from 1982 to 1987), passed away earlier this month at the age of 83, following a long illness. Among his significant contributions to the field of sociology were five volumes (The Flight from Ambiguity, Greater Ethiopia, Powers of the Mind, Wax and Gold, and Visions of the Sociological Tradition), an edited collection (Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms), and a translation (Simmel’s The View of Life), all published by the University of Chicago Press. As chronicled in memoriam by Susie Allen for UChicagoNews: Over his long career, Levine published several works that are now considered landmarks of sociology. His “masterpiece,” according to former student Charles Camic, was Visions of the Sociological Tradition, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1995. In that book, Levine traced the intellectual genealogy of the social sciences and argued that different traditions of social thought could productively inform one another. “It’s a brilliant analysis of theories and intellectual traditions, but also a very thoughtful effort to bring them into intellectual dialogue with one another,” said Camic, PhD’79, now a professor of sociology at . . .

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