Sociology

Review: Edward Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

February 8, 2006
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Review: Edward Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

Tim Harford reviewed nine popular economics books in the Chronicle of Higher Education, including Edward Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Harford says that "Synthetic Worlds is a surprisingly profound book about the social, political, and economic issues arising from the emergence of vast multiplayer games on the Internet. What Castronova has realized is that these games, where players contribute considerable labor in exchange for things they value, are not merely like real economies, they are real economies, displaying inflation, fraud, Chinese sweatshops, and some surprising in-game innovations." Harford also wrote a longer review of the book last month for the Financial Times; that review is available on his website. You can also read our interview with Castronova. . . .

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Review: Michele de La Pradelle, Market Day in Provence

February 3, 2006
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Review: Michele de La Pradelle, Market Day in Provence

William Grimes reviews a half-dozen books about France in today’s New York Times, including Michèle de La Pradelle’s Market Day in Provence. “Ms. de La Pradelle,” says Grimes, “an ethnologist who was sent by the French government to analyze public markets, spent years scrutinizing the goods and the behavior and the underlying rules governing the market in Carpentras. Her findings amount to a cold shower for anyone, like myself, who has constructed a rich fantasy life around such places. All those farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, those delectable cheeses, those mouth-watering pâtés, come from the same wholesalers who supply the stores. The region switched over to large-scale industrial farming way back in the 1920’s. ‘A market is a collectively produced anachronism, and in this it responds to deeply contemporary logic,’ she says.” The point is well made in our excerpt from the book. . . .

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Review: Georgi M. Derluguian, Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus

February 2, 2006
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Review: Georgi M. Derluguian, Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus

The Times Literary Supplement just published this favorable review by Charles King: "Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus is, without a doubt, the most engaging and deeply analytical guide to this knotty region to have been produced in the past decade.… Georgi Derluguian tells how much of Eurasia, in only a decade and a half, traded the promise of liberty and democracy for a political and moral captivity that will be difficult to escape. Clever, original and at times downright funny, Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus is both an intimate biography of an unusual Circassian sociologist and an epic account of an entire generation’s trek through modernity. It uncovers the hidden logic behind the tragedies and horrors of the Caucasus—indeed, of the entire late twentieth-century world—and shows how seemingly senseless acts of violence have discernible, and often rather pedestrian, causes." . . .

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Twenty years after the Challenger

January 24, 2006
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Twenty years after the Challenger

A piece by John Noble Wilford in the New York Times is occasioned by the anniversaries of the destruction of the space shuttles Challenger (twenty years ago on January 28, 1986) and Columbia (three years ago on February 1, 2003) and the fire that killed three Apollo astronauts (thirty-nine years ago on January 27, 1967). Ten years ago we published The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA by Diane Vaughan which put forth the view—now widely accepted—that the Challenger accident was not the result of bad engineeering but of a management culture that normalized deviance: that flew missions even when presented with evidence of serious problems. The Columbia accident showed how difficult it is to change the patterns of organizational life. Another author brought a different sensibility to the shuttle; you can read Howard Nemerov’s two poems on the space shuttle. . . .

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Press release: Lee Clarke, Worst Cases

January 20, 2006
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Press release: Lee Clarke, Worst Cases

Lee Clarke explores the consequences of terror and catastrophe for our future as a civilization. A leading expert on disasters and a consultant to the federal government on disaster response strategies, Clarke argues that the time has come to devote more energy to preventing not just the improbable, but the unimaginable. Things that have never happened before happen everyday, and it is the worst cases that we fail to anticipate that pose the greatest threat to our way of life…. Read the press release. We have an interview with Clarke and his lists of past and future worst case scenarios. . . .

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