Sociology

Press Release: Nelson, Economics for Humans

September 22, 2006
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Press Release: Nelson, Economics for Humans

The essence of economics is to provide goods and services for human well-being and survival. Yet, many see it as something less altruistic: a cold, heartless machine. Given that we govern our economic world, is it possible to imbue it with a heart and a soul? In short, can we make economics more human? In Economics for Humans, Julie A. Nelson discredits the deeply-embedded idea that our economic world should somehow be separate from our concerns for ethics and personal relationships. The major obstacle to a more considerate, equitable, and, indeed, more productive economic world, she argues, can be found in the prevailing notion of the economy as a machine. This idea, first popularized by Adam Smith, has blinded us to the qualities that make us work and care for one another—qualities that also make businesses thrive and grow. We can wed our desire for profits with our justifiable concerns for the environment and general social welfare. But we can only do so if we begin to think of economics not as a robot-like machine, but a living, beating heart that keeps the body running, while serving as an emblem of compassion and care. Read the press release. Read an . . .

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Press Release: Jasper, Getting Your Way

September 19, 2006
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Press Release: Jasper, Getting Your Way

Although we’re generally unconscious of it, strategy is a regular component of daily life. Whether you’re planning a dinner party, fighting for a promotion, attempting to lose weight, trying to beat traffic, or occupied by any number of normal activities, you’re engaging in strategic thought and action. It’s crucial to our success and happiness. It’s no wonder then that books on strategy routinely find the bestseller list. Most of these accounts of strategy are brought to us by CEOs, self-help gurus, and military leaders who reduce strategy to straightforward sets of rules or, in the case of game theorists, mathematical equations. But in Getting Your Way: Strategic Dilemmas in the Real World, James M. Jasper reminds us that life’s really not so simple. The key to mastering strategy and finding success is to develop a more refined understanding of just how unique and complex any given situation really is. Read the press release. . . .

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Review: Pradelle, Market Day in Provence

September 14, 2006
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Review: Pradelle, Market Day in Provence

Fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, lingering smells of garden-grown herbs and spices, traveling merchants and farmers hawking their wares—these romanticized images of the local street market have helped it to retain its almost timeless appeal to consumers worldwide. Today, tourists flock to places like Carpentras, a city near Avignon in the south of France, to experience the provincial traditions of its outdoor market. In Market Day in Provence Michèlle de La Pradelle explores the modern popularity of the market at Carpentras to deliver a revealing critique of the various fictions that have allowed it to survive in the midst of a modern economy. Sarah Howard explains in a recent review for the Times Literary Supplement: According to de La Pradelle, although patrons understand the reality of the modern market, they are caught up in a theatre of illusions, a vast participatory dramatization or a “kind of method acting for the masses.” … Gritty bunches of leeks and muddy potatoes convince them that products are fresher and more natural. Peasant-like sellers extolling the virtues of “their” pâté embody rural, artisanal images, while regional toponyms, such as “Sisteron” lamb and “Cavaillon” melons, allow patrons to connect with the terroir. Yet, Howard notes, . . .

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Review: Timmermans, Postmortem

August 12, 2006
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Review: Timmermans, Postmortem

Stefan Timmermans’s Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths recently underwent something of a medical examination itself. The August 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association features a review commending Timmermans, a professor of sociology, for his “perceptive, insightful, and revealing view of the profession.” A quote follows: Sociologists rigorously scrutinize as outsiders professions that they study and, consequently, are often received as excessively critical and naive. This is certainly true of medical sociologists. I noted that many of my colleagues viewed this work with skepticism and concern. However, Timmermans asks hard and penetrating questions that the forensic pathology community needs to be asking itself and that others are already asking in court and in budget committees. Timmermans speaks to professional and cultural components of a “forensic authority” for investigations of suspicious deaths, which derives from a societal need for “death-brokering,” from a legal mandate to investigate suspicious deaths, and from scientific expertise. In so doing, he does not merely describe the work of forensic pathologists or interesting cases but instead probes the foundations of forensic pathology practices. … Postmortem is a wake-up call to forensic pathology, and every practitioner should read it. The book should be . . .

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Review: Lewis, Cracking Up

August 9, 2006
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Review: Lewis, Cracking Up

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Review: Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

August 3, 2006
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Review: Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

If you’re reading this then you’re probably already aware of how much digital technology has insinuated itself into our daily routines. But just how much could we, or should we, devote to our online lives? The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal recently ran a review of two books about the increasing popularity of “virtual realities” including our own Edward Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds: Mr. Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds argues that virtual reality is a thriving place with millions of inhabitants world-wide. And it bears close watching… Synthetic Worlds explains the trend, obvious to anyone who has dipped into the online subculture over time, that virtual worlds are populated differently now than they used to be: they began as the province of nerds and outcasts but are now approaching the mainstream—as reflected in recent media reports and the increasing share of quotes in such coverage drawn from the housewife and married-dad demographics. Read an interview with the author, or check out his blog. . . .

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Press release: Laufer, Corporate Bodies and Guilty Minds

July 28, 2006
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Press release: Laufer, Corporate Bodies and Guilty Minds

The recent convictions of former Enron executives Ken Lay and Tom Skilling are merely the latest names in a spate of verdicts handed down against high-profile executives. In only the past few years, Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski, WorldCom’s Bernie Ebbers, Adelphia’s John Rigas, and the American goddess of domesticity Martha Stewart each received legitimate jail time. But should Americans really feel confident that these verdicts and measures are anything more than window dressing? Are we really beginning to solve the problem? For William Laufer, author of Corporate Bodies and Guilty Minds, the answers are “no” and “no.” Read the press release. . . .

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Remembering the Chicago heat wave

July 14, 2006
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Remembering the Chicago heat wave

The weather forecast for the Chicago area for this weekend is hot and humid, with the Sunday afternoon heat index expected to approach 110°. The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for Sunday afternoon through Tuesday evening, noting that the heat may extend into Wednesday and Thursday. All of which reminds us of this same period eleven years ago—July 13-20, 1995—when over seven hundred people died in Chicago over a week of intense temperatures—with an inadequate public response contributing to the high fatality rates. Eric Klinenberg wrote the definitive book on the event and its causes, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. When the book was published we did an interview with Klinenberg, which still makes instructive reading. Keep cool this weekend. Go to the library. Go to the beach. See a movie. . . .

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Press release: Timmermans, Postmortem

July 13, 2006
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Press release: Timmermans, Postmortem

Postmortem shows in utterly fascinating and close up detail what death investigations are like from behind the scenes. Stefan Timmermans spent three years shadowing medical examiners—the type you’d find on the hit TV series CSI—to show how these professionals unlock the secrets of corpses and speak to the living on behalf of the dead. More broadly, he also considers how death titillates us as an existential drama, exploring why we find the work these medical examiners perform so compelling. Read the press release. Read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Philip Rieff, 1922-2006

July 4, 2006
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Philip Rieff, 1922-2006

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