Month: March 2013

You’re saying what with those data? Regnerus and the NHL Lockout

There are few things more upsetting to sociologists than poorly used survey data. It’s frustrating to see data interpreted without any context or consideration of how the survey method might affect results. A very serious example of this is evident in the ‘Regnerus Affair.’ The bigger parts of the story are certainly questions about the review process, Regnerus’ relationship with the project’s funder, and the political implications of the work being published. But, I’d guess most sociologists who read the piece after it was published reacted initially to the study’s just plain bad operationalization of ‘same sex families’ and the uncritical thinking about the causal relationship between family socialization and children’s outcomes. That measurement of same sex families wouldn’t have passed my undergrad Methods course, and it got published in a respected journal.



A diverse parish? What’s that mean?

What does it mean to be a diverse congregation? Most congregations aren’t very diverse, meaning the vast majority of American places of worship tend to be mostly folks of one race. For example, Emerson and Kim report that 90% of U.S. congregations are at least 90% one racial group (2003: 217).  They define a multiracial congregation as one in which no racial group makes up more than 80% of the membership, and find that less than 8% of U.S. congregations meet that standard. Yes, those data are a little old, but I’d be surprised if it has changed very much.

Over the last 5 years, or so, I’ve been paying attention to significant changes taking place in the Catholic diocese of Syracuse. Because of a lack of priests, the diocese has closed a relatively large number of parishes. One of the parishes that was closed was considered by many in the city to be the ‘Black Catholic Parish.’ The data I have on this parish, qualitative and quantitative, show that to be a semi-reasonable claim. Its members were more likely to be African American than at other parishes, and it probably did meet Emerson and Kim’s criterion for diversity. When I interviewed white people, they certainly thought of it as a ‘Black Parish,’ and they valued that diversity. African Americans I interviewed also valued the diversity of the place, but they were less likely to think of it as explicitly ‘black.’ They would point out that it wasn’t just a white and black place, but that there were other people of color there too. Not to mention worshipers from a variety of class situations.

When this parish closed as part of the changes in the diocese, it merged with a parish that was relatively progressive and considered by Catholics of color to be a welcoming place. But, it was a very white parish, and wouldn’t have qualified as diverse according to Emerson and Kim. It was definitely not as ‘multicultural’ as the closed parish, and this is confirmed with interviews I did with people who attended there after the merger. The merger, importantly, created a new place of worship inside the building of the mostly white parish. Some from the former ‘black’ parish said the new place was diverse because they brought that diversity with them. To them, the ‘diversity’ was the same faces from their old parish, and still they weren’t all African American. For the worshipers who didn’t have to go anywhere for the merger, this new community was “definitely” more diverse.

The new place is diverse according to the measure developed by Emerson and Kim, but the experience of that diversity is not the same for everybody. For some it was new, and an adjustment. For others it was much the same as before, but not exactly. Besides having moved to a new building, there was the fact that in the old parish they were simply being Catholic, but now, to some extent, they were ‘the diversity.’


Emerson, Michael O. and Karen Chai Kim. 2003. “Multiracial Congregations: An Analysis of Their Development and a Typology.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42(2):217-227.

Here’s my card, and I’m sorry

Thanks to the timing of the two sessions I was a part of, I spent the better part of the last 4 days at the meetings of the Eastern Sociological Society. When I saw that I had a 3:30 session on Thursday and a 1:45 on Sunday, I was a little upset at the inconvenience. In the end, however, I spent more time at this conference than I have at any for several years, and I enjoyed it a lot. If you don’t believe me, see my numerous tweets about it, which seemed to earn me some followers and drive some away. The twitterverse is fickle!

My Sunday presentation was titled “Command Performance: Narrative, Institutions, and Performing Obedience.” In it, I’m trying to say something helpful about the nexus of interaction, institutions, and culture as it applies to action. I’m interested in why we do things that reflect moralities we disagree with, and I think institutional and interaction orders have a lot to do with it. As I was actively writing my talk most of the weekend (yep), I was hearing most of the presentations through that amplifier, and seeing most of the activity of the conference through that lens. There was a mini conference on institutions that was very good and helpful for my thinking, and there were great sessions on crime and inequality too, at which I learned a great deal.

I think the most interesting thing I saw, however, was a brief interaction between two graduate students who were meeting each other for what appeared to be the first time. I wasn’t part of it, I just happened to be sitting right next to their conversation about shared research interests. They were excitedly sharing their interests, and planning on following up during the conference for the classic ‘let’s have a drink’ interaction ritual. As one of the students handed the other a business card he said, to paraphrase, ‘I know this is cheesy, but it’s got my info on it.’ In this exchange I saw so much of what I want to understand. He was following the norm of the discipline to make connections and share contact info, but at the same time he was judging his own behavior by indicating that there was something unseemly about efficiently sharing contact info. Is it because it was a business card, which does seem a bit old school in these days of email and Twitter? Did he feel that it was too utilitarian and ambitious during an interaction that included the friendly ‘let’s get a drink’ routine, even though ‘let’s get a drink’ clearly meant let’s talk about our work? I don’t know, but I do know he was doing something many of us do to serve the interests of our careers within this profession, using an institutionalized practice, and judging his own behavior as somehow ‘less than ideal’ as he did it. That’s fascinating!

Being a Sociologist at a SLAC

I haven’t posted on the blog in a while, and I feel a bit guilty. This is that time of year when it becomes hard to find time for any of the things we’ve got to do. Today in Social Theory I taught Coser on the Functions of Social Conflict. We had a great conversation that ended with me ranting about sports rivalries being a venue for a sort of non-realistic conflict for blue collar folks. I don’t know if that’s reasonable or not, but around here you’ve got a lot of Buffalo Bills and SU fans. The SU fans hate Georgetown with passion, and when I think Buffalo, I think blue collar. Upstate New York has been largely abandoned by 21st century capitalism, so I guess if you can’t change the power the elite have over the economy, you can at least be proud SU beat Georgetown in the last Big East tournament match up ever. That’s a big deal. This section of Social Theory has been really great this year. The students are really engaged even though it’s an 8:30 AM section. There is at least one student who understood Parsons better than I ever did. How about that?

Then in a senior criminology seminar I covered how to do basic descriptive statistics and OLS using SPSS. SPSS crashed in the first section, but we pulled through. The students are relatively intimidated by SPSS, and so a big part of teaching it is just proving it can be done. When it crashes every time you teach it, that makes it a fun challenge! In the next month I’ll be working with 36 students to help them do analysis of all sorts of data relevant to all sorts of research questions. The topics are really good this year, so it’ll be tiring and fun.

At the end of this week I’m presenting 2 papers at the meetings of the Eastern Sociological Society. One is about community in a Catholic parish that has undergone some quite major changes over the last few years. The other is an attempt to theorize obedience by accounting for culture, institutions, and interaction. Neither one is finished, but I did just stay up late to get the first mostly done (before writing this quick post). I’ll spend tomorrow finishing up the second, or at least getting it into presentable shape. Then I’ll prep the two chapters I’m teaching in the crim seminar on Wednesday, and then I’ll prep to teach C. Wright Mills’ ‘Culture and Politics.’ I love that essay. I really hope the hectic nature of this week doesn’t take away from the joy of that lecture.

Oh, and I’ve got a book manuscript to review and two journal reviews due in just a couple weeks. Plus I’m on several committees, and starting a new project with a colleague in Political Science. And there is some assessment work to do, and…well you get it. Many of you ‘know’ it.

So that’s just doing sociology at a small liberal arts college. It’s a great job.

Self on the Shelf: Music and Relationships

What is music? This is one of those classic questions that seems easy on the face of it, but then becomes remarkably complicated when you think about it for a minute or two. I’ll skip that mess, and ask a different question: what is the meaning of a music collection? I’ve got a relatively large music collection by some people’s standards, but an embarrassingly small collection next to some people I know. What’s that collection say about me? I estimate that I’ve got around 800 CDs, and there are about 7,000 songs on my iPod. I don’t own any vinyl, and only a handful of cassette tapes, most of which  are mixes I made from CDs to play in my first car. In terms of genre, my music collection is heavily 80s and 90s alternative, Americana, and a bit of punk. I’m a product of my time and social location, and I’d argue my music collection is good evidence of that. (I swear the GSS used to list a finding about people saying their favorite music was what they listened to in high school, but I can’t find it anywhere). A sociological discussion of music would probably consider the relationships between race, class, and gender, among other variables, and one’s tastes. It would be an exploration of social capital, and I know it’s been done. But, what about the meaning of a music collection? (more…)

Prosumption in Sociology 101

This upcoming fall I’ll be teaching Sociology 101 for the first time. I’ve been eager to teach the course, but at the same time it is a daunting task. How does one do justice to the discipline of sociology in 16 weeks? It’s not possible to cover the content completely, but that won’t be my primary goal. The primary goal will be to introduce the sociological perspective, and it looks like this is what most folks do with the class. One thing that I think might be different about my approach is that I want this to be a very active experience for the students. Instead of memorizing concepts and statistics, I’m hoping we’ll work together to generate content meant to illustrate basic sociological questions and answers. I’m using the idea of ‘prosumption‘ to guide the course plan. I’ve written up a funding proposal for the work I’ll do this summer to develop the course, and I thought I’d share it here to see if I could get any comments or suggestions (on the course design, not the funding proposal!).

Here it is: (more…)