American Sociological Association Declares Victory and Dissolves. Starts Over Tomorrow.

(GPI Washington)  American Sociological Association (ASA) President Talcott Webber today announced that the ASA was dissolving, effective immediately. In the ASA press release, Webber explained that

We have come to the realization that virtually every other discipline has adopted the sociological approach to not only the social sciences, but also the humanities and some of the natural sciences. All of this is really just sociology under a different name. There is Institutional Economics, Social Psychology, Organizational Theory, Cultural Geography, Ethnography, Literary Theory, Communication, Cultural Theory, Musicology, Socio-cutural Anthropology, Socio-biology, Mirror Neuron stuff, Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Evolutionary Psychology, and a host of other disciplines which are nothing but rewarmed Sociology.  Even History has given up their old hagiographic tricks, and come over to do comparative and social history.

 

As for the applied social sciences like Social Work, Education, Public Administration, Geographical Information Systems, Marketing, and so forth, what are they but Social Problems courses? Zuckerberg even once admitted that Facebook is as much sociology as it is technology.  It is clear that imitation is the best form of flattery—and Sociology has won the game!

 

We’ve even had a Sociology major elected to the US Presidency, as well as a First Lady.  A Sociology Professor was even one of the key figures in the United States Senate in the twentieth century.  And look at the op-ed page of the New York Times today.  Krugman is not really an economist, he’s a sociologist focused on issues of economic inequality. Brooks is the ‘conservative’ who quotes Marx, and is really just a closeted Marxian, Weberian, or whatever,

In light of this, ASA is declaring victory. Webber in his characteristically blunt approach explained,

Look, we won, they lost. They are us, so now we can go home, which is why ASA is closing shop. At some point you need to quit while you are ahead.  Why should we wait for a bunch of bean-counting Deans to shut us down when we are the most successful shop on campus?

Webber seems to think that it is problematic that despite the obviously widespread acceptance of the Sociological Imagination, hardly any of the daughter disciplines actually ask their students to take actual Sociology classes. “But what’s the point of having our own discipline, when we are everywhere? If our discipline is everywhere, we need to be everywhere, too.”

In light of this announcement, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has announced that it will support the immediate closure of all Sociology Departments in the United States, and the reassignment of tenured, untenured, and adjunct faculty to the appropriate daughter disciplines. The purpose of this policy shift will be to sharpen the sociological skills in the many departments which have been teaching sociology all along.  To assist with this shift, AAUP is recommending that all adjuncts be granted tenure.

“Look,” said an anonymous source from AAUA.

Why should a retired p.e. coach from the Education Department be teaching ‘Education and Society’ when you can have a well-trained sociologist? Or for that matter, why should some molecular biologist who’s never read Max Weber on social stratification be teaching a course in human cultural evolution? Or someone who’s never read Adorno teach a course in Marketing? Sociologists are the ones who get all this. And I’ve never understood what there is about the ‘socio’ in socio-biology that the Dean of Biology does not understand!

The Association of Post-Modern Sociologists was particularly excited about this development. “Whoa, does this mean we can move into the Business School and teach them about simulacra, consumer culture, and McDonaldization? The Business School—that’s really who needs us. I’m glad to shake the dust off my shoes, and put my backside to the quantoids. Give me Marketing, or give me death!”

As for the statisticians in the discipline, they too were relieved. An anonymous source commented,

You mean we can finally join the Department where they design Student Evaluation of Teaching forms? We can definitely show them a thing or two about reliability and validity of social measures. This will be far better than teaching a bunch of sophomores who hate the obligatory social statistics courses.

As for the ASA’s prime office space on K Street in Washington DC, the ASA is looking to sublet it to their Republican lobbyist neighbors.  There was even a rumor that the resident sociologists from Fox News might move down the street so that they can take advantage of the prestige associated with the academy’s most successful discipline.

After concluding his news conference, President Webber pledged that the institution will reconstitute itself tomorrow with a new name and mission.  “After all,” he said, “bureaucracies, even the ASA, are among the most enduring of all social structures.”

 

Almond Harvest in the Valley

The author worked as an EMT and paramedic in northern California from 1993-1997.

The call came just after 5:30 on a cold Autumn morning. A possible broken leg woke my partner, Russ, and I from broken sleep. As I stumbled to my ambulance, I rubbed sleep from my eyes and wrapped my jacket tightly around body. Russ claimed the driver’s seat, found the highway that divides our small town into north and south, and headed east toward the sunrise, to the fields and orchards that frame the town.

The rundown shack sat in the middle of an almond orchard, it’s dirty windows covered with old sheets, pillow cases, and towels; anything to protect the inhabitants from daylight during precious hours of rest.

We approached the shack hesitantly, listening to a multitude of male voices murmur in Spanish inside the clapboard house. The front door swung open, and as I stepped into the dimly lit room, half a dozen men scattered into the corners of the building. A man in his early twenties lay in their wake, writhing in pain as he lay next to a woodstove in the center of the room. A heavy air of stale cigarettes enveloped the young man, and his dirty, worn jeans and long sleeved cotton shirt hung loosely on his unnaturally thin frame. His head rested on the four inch step that he had tripped over while getting ready to head to the fields.

Surrounding the woodstove, a dozen or so thin, narrow mattresses filled the floor, a foot or less of open space between each. In the background of the living room, men shuffled in a small, makeshift kitchen, scraping together leftover beans and corn tortillas for breakfast.

We spent nearly 20 minutes stabilizing and splinting the man’s shattered ankle; he would be lucky to walk on it again after surgeries, casts, and months of rehabilitation. Without those things, he would likely never be able to use his lower leg properly again. His work in the fields of California, picking peaches and oranges, raking almonds, hand picking strawberries in the unrelenting Sacramento Valley heat, was undoubtedly over.

Men and women work 12 to 14 hours a day during California’s harvest season, which begins in April with strawberries, moves to peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, garlic, and ends later in the fall, with almonds and walnuts. If you eat a strawberry this year, it was likely picked by a temporary farm laborer in California. We grow over 400 different crops here in California, and the vast majority are planted, tended to, and harvested by migrant farm laborers who earn just at minimum wage, or less than $19,000 a year.

This is what many of California’s farms are built on, what they’ve been built on since the 1940s, when American men went off to war, and farms still needed to be worked. Hispanics from many countries, but mostly Mexico, harvest the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that feeds America and the world. It is the dirty little secret of cheap produce in the United States.

…our state produces a sizable majority of American fruits, vegetables and nuts; 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, and 69 percent of carrots and the list goes on and on. A lot of this is due to our soil and climate. No other state, or even a combination of states, can match California’s output per acre. – Western Farm Press

 

We finally loaded our patient into our ambulance, transported him to the nearest hospital. He had no identification, no driver’s license, insurance card, and refused to provide us with his name. He was undeniably an undocumented worker. He likely would never receive the care the needed beyond the visit in the emergency department, would lose his job, would receive no sick days, Worker’s Compensation, nothing for his destroying ankle. And there would likely be 5 men eagerly waiting to take his job when he didn’t show up.

It was conditions like these that Cesar Chavez fought against in the 1960s and 70s in California, striking with farm laborers and starving himself for weeks on end to bring attention to the plight of the workers who feed the United States, but often cannot afford to feed themselves. These migrant farm laborers are not permanent employees, often don’t understand US employment law that would protect them, and often find themselves in the employ of people who would exploit them.

Regardless of the controversy that surrounded him late in his life, in his early days, Chavez sought to fight for people who were being exploited with low wages, suffered in unsafe working conditions, and fell prey to unfair employment practices. He stood up for the men and women who often couldn’t stand up for themselves.

Today, we celebrate Cesar Chavez, and the principles he stood for, and remember the farm workers who labor every day in this country to provide food for us all.

Source: http://westernfarmpress.com/tree-nuts/what-happens-if-us-loses-california-food-production

Can Bad Grades and Graduate School Go Together?

Someone asked Ethnography.com founder Mark Dawson whether getting “bad grades” means for becoming an anthropologist. Every graduate anthropology program is different, of course, and there are no blanket statements possible. But, good grades are always a fantastic idea if you are trying to get into graduate school, in anthropology or any other subject. After all, the professors evaluating your applications mostly had good grades. And since the graduate school admissions process is in large part considered to be about identifying who will be a professor in the future (even if your goal is to be a practitioner), the admissions committee is typically looking for someone who will end up being something like them. Nevertheless, I urge people with not-so-good grades to apply, if that is their dream. Persistence, some life experience, cross-cultural experience, publications etc., can all substitute for the lower grades you may have gotten, and can no longer change. My own experience in the late 1980s is perhaps instructive.

I had a 2.7 gpa in my B.S. undergraduate program at UC Davis in International Agricultural Development in the 1970s. This got me into a M.S. program in Biology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where I graduated with a 3.4 g.p.a. Better but I was still not a future Malinowski. But the Peace Corps didn’t care, and neither did my next two employers in Thailand and Tanzania. So I had a great time working in both countries, learning the Thai and Swahili languages, and even doing some academic and professional writing about refugees. But I found I found among the people I respected the most were not only natural scientists (like me), but the two or three anthropologists I met up-country. The anthropologists had the best take on the culture and societies we lived in, and somehow were the best able to assess the frustrations and delights I took in living abroad. Anyway, after six years working in Thailand and Tanzania, I decided to apply for the anthropology program at UC Davis in the general belief that my publications, language skills (Thai and Swahili), and interest in refugees would make up for the less-than-stellar g.p.a. Wrong. I was rejected twice.

Instead, in 1988, I enrolled at California State University, Sacramento, where I took a number of Anthropology and International Affairs courses in a still not completed MA program. Some good grades from Sacramento State, and lots of personal lobbying at UC Davis finally got me admitted to the MA program in Sociology, which in turn led to the Ph.D. in Sociology. And today my professional affiliation is with sociology, not my first choice, anthropology. I am happy as a sociologist, but still admire the anthropologists I continue to come in contact with.

So grades always matter. Now that I have been a professor for ten years, and have given thousands of grades, I know what bad grades measure, more or less. Bad grades are often a measure of a lack of discipline. This means failure to take tests seriously, go to class, and a whole range of other things that do not lead to good grades. Going to too many parties also leads to bad grades, as do late night bull sessions with with friends, staying up late etc., etc.,All  are the most common explanation for a less than stellar g.p.a. Do not do these things. However, if it is all a done deal like it was for me, and you still have a passion for academics, do be polite and persistent in your applications to graduate school. Do not take the first no for as the definitive answer, and get a thick skin. Take extra classes to help redefine yourself. And when someone grumbles that you have a “rather peculiar g.p.a.” realize first that they have the power in this situation, and you may need to bite your tongue. And second, find someone who will be more sympathetic. More importantly perhaps, recognize that the comment is as much a reflection of their short-sightedness and lack of “real life” experience during their undergraduate career and after, rather than about where you are in the application process.

For what it is worth, here is a link to an article I wrote five years ago about students who, like me, get too many C grades, and even a D or two, as an undergraduate. It is called “The Trouble with Valedictorians,” and still reflects my view about people who have never received the insult of a D+ grade.

 

First published at Ethnography.com in 2007

The Connection between Crime and Immigration: A Complicated but not Conflicted Issue

Originally published here in February 2010

My first book was based on my Ph.D. dissertation, and called Crime and Immigrant Youth (Sage 1999). I of course really like it when people read it, even though it is becoming dated.  In this context, I read the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) new “Backgrounder” called Immigration and Crime: Assessing a Conflicted Issue by Steven Camarota and Jessica Vaughan in November 2009 with interest.  This paper has since received wide exposure in the popular press.  In it the authors claimed to do a comprehensive review of the literature on immigration and crime, and pronounce that there would be startling new conclusions about the relationship, i.e. that immigrants were likely to be more criminal than the native born.  But then I read deeper.  Despite claiming to be a review of academic and policy literature, they did not refer to that which disagreed with their assumption that crime and immigration are tightly tied together. And indeed, their conclusions were predictable for an advocacy organization that explicitly indicates that it favors a “low-immigrant vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted.” So even though their report actually develops new data, it did so with one goal in mind: Demonstrating that immigrants are more criminal than the rest of us.  It is with this conclusion that I take exception.

In fact much data much more data about the negative correlation between immigrants themselves and crime than the report lets on (the citations below are just a small indication), which consistently indicate that immigrants themselves, except for crimes caused by immigration itself (e.g. violating immigration laws), tend to have lower rates of crime than the native born. The academic literature is also clear on another point: Immigrants are more likely to seek employment mowing our lawns, staffing our restaurants, cleaning our houses, and staff our factories than they are to commit crime. In fact, such populations by themselves tend to have lower arrest rates than native-born US citizens.  But this is indeed an over-simplification of the relationship, too.

Indeed, immigrants have such low rates of crime that one major researcher has proposed that a way to calm cities down would be to introduce new immigrants.  And while admitting more immigrants might work to bring crime in the short-run, I don’t think that this is the whole story either. The reason for this paradox is that immigrant populations are self-selected for behavior, and age, all conditions which mitigate against the impulsive behavior which most commonly lands people in American lock-ups.  In particular, criminal behavior and arrest is strongly related with age   and gender.  Males from about 15-22 years old have the highest frequency of theft, assault, drug use, etc., as anyone who has ever survived an American high school knows.  The average age for arriving immigrants, be they legal or illegal is in the late twenties.  So in many respects, it is not all that surprising that crime rates among them are lower than the general population.

What is more, immigrants are a self-selected lot, in the sense that those who leave home tend to be self-starters, energetic risk takers, better educated and more compliant than their less-energetic cousins who stay home. This is why scholars like Rumbaut (2009), Sampson (2008), Matthew T. Lee et al (2001), and my own book (Waters 1999) typically demonstrate that immigrants themselves are more law-abiding than native populations. This is one reason why immigrants are often a good deal for receiving countries like the United States.  Another country pays the costs of raising and educating them, they show up in the receiving country, and immediately get to work.

But this belies another problem with immigrant populations, which is that they do sometimes have a “second generation” crime problem.  This issue is unfortunately avoided in the Camarota and Vaughan’s report.  The fact though is that immigrant communities in which birth rates are high, and which are impoverished and centered inner cities, often develop gangs of their own.  This happens when the males born in the US (or who arrived as small children) hit the 15-22 year old age group. When this happens a strain emerges between some immigrant boys who do poorly in schools, and immigrant parents who are unable to control them in the context of the United States’ inner cities.  In this context, parents and youth alike are often isolated from America’s mainstream society.  This occurs because the parents are isolated in the impoverished immigrant community, while the youth are isolated as a result of marginalization at school, their own behavior, and ultimately the response of the justice system.  Notably this is not a behavior brought from home countries, but developed in the context of American cities.  Their cousins who remained behind in the rural areas of the third world do not have the same problem.  The really odd thing though is that in these same American-born families, the brothers or sisters or the errant boys are often doing particularly well—many become the paradigmatic immigrant valedictorian whose accomplishments are justifiably celebrated by organizations like CIS.

The problem of course is that immigrant success stories and crime stories are often inseparable, and as a result, are not particularly responsive to pat formulas relying on legal restrictions, and blanket deportation policies that CIS advocates. But, irrespective of what CIS writes about data being “conflicted,” there is indeed some clarity in how crime emerges in immigrant communities: It arises from the conditions of American cities.  And dealing with the conditions of American cities as they affect impoverished immigrant communities is the best way to deal with the waves of crime that do predictably occur, leading to more victims and arrests.  Acknowledging the complexity of such issues is what providing a good welcome to immigrants should involve.

References

Tony Waters (1999) Crime and Immigrant Youth. Thousand Oaks: Sage

Matthew T. Lee, Ramiro Martinez, and Richard Rosenfeld (2001) Does Immigration Increase Homicide?  Negative Evidence from Three Border Cities.  Sociological Quarterly

Graham C. Ousey, and Charis E. Kubrin (2009) “Exploring the Connection between Immigration and Violent Crime Rates in U. S. Cities, 1980-2000.” Social Problems, August 2009.  56(3):447-473.

Ruben Rumbaut (2009) “Undocumented Immigration and Rates of Crime and Imprisonment: Popular Myths and Empirical Studies,” at http://www.policefoundation.org/pdf/strikingabalance/Appendix%20D.pdf

Robert J. Sampson (2008) Rethinking Crime and Immigration, Contexts Volume 7.

Traveling Notes–Expect the Unexpected!

March 20, 2015

I am at Kilimanjaro International Airport, returning home after a five day whirlwind trip here. The reason for the trip was “business,” meaning that establishment of a relationship between two American universities, and a university in Moshi, Tanzania.

I am reminded thought the reason is not just business, but to experience the vitality of life. An important part of travelling is welcoming the unexpected.

And this trip has done it—despite being so brief. Just today—in the morning there was a 370 student welcome for us at an elementary school. Friday was sports day, and the students were all dressed in androgynous “sports uniforms.” Then a tour of a hospital where I saw my first orthopedic surgery. The doctor was screws into a thigh bone, a procedure which involved using what appeared to me to be a manual screwdriver inserted through a hole cut in the leg. The patient, we were told was anesthesized with a spinal block. He had a screen up so that he could not see what was being done on his leg–but he could feel the pressure of the screwing, and hear the sounds of what was going on.  Ye gads.

I’m nor sure which caused this surgery–but our guide told us that the most common source was motorcycle accidents.  With a bit of wealth, Tanzania is being introduced to motorcycles, and the broken legs that his leads to.

Then on the way to the airport we drove through an area of Tanzania which has in recent years been cleared to plant maize. The rains are about two weeks late. Every evening the winds kicked up, but no rain. But today was different. As we drove to the airport in our cab, the winds did indeed kick in, creating a dust storm which led suddenly to zero visibility—and a cab driver who had to stop suddenly when a bicyclist appeared out of the dust. What cleared up the duststorm? Rain! Indeed, a torrential downpour arrived just as we left the cab.

All of this was “unplanned;” if you asked me what would happen last night, I would have predicted some boring tours of a school, health facilities, and a taxi ride to the airport. But that is the purpose of travel—the delightfully unexpected!

Travelling Notes—from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport

I’m on a rather strange trip from Chico, California to where I live, via Sacramento, California where I had a meeting on Thursday, and then onto Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania.

The usual hurry up and wait of travel applies, except for the first day in Sacramento, when I went to a meeting of the committee which will advise Chico State’s president on a hire for a senior executive position.

The meeting went well—the usual range of nervous and earnest candidates making a case those of us who for them are a bit of a cipher. I suspect that I would like most of them in other circumstances, but such interview situations are so contrived—for both the interviewees, and interviewers. To be honest, I much prefer to be on the interviewer side of things.

For dinner we went out to an African American Soul Food restaurant. One of the people on our committee recognized Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson when he came in and quietly sat down at a table. Johnson is both a political and sports celebrity. It was interesting to watch him during his low time—it was not quite anonymous, but he was very accessible. A number of times patrons came up to greet him and take a picture with him. Other times, he quietly worked on his mobile electronic device.

My flight to Los Angeles the next day though was delayed by another celebrity who was not so low key. President Barack Obama was apparently in Los Angeles to tape a television program the night before, and departing for Washington (or somewhere else) that morning. Anyway, all the airspace in Los Angeles was cleared for the departure of Air Force One. And we in Sacramento were delayed—and I suspect the whole days schedule was disrupted by the morning shutdown. For me that meant my flight to Amsterdam was delayed, and I missed my flight to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

And so there I sit typing away in the Amsterdam airport, about to finally board my plane for Tanzania. Fifteen or twenty years ago I came here once or twice per year—but not recently. The airport is a bit older now, but still as always under construction. One of the really odd things is that most of the signs are now mono-lingual in English. The written Dutch language is very low key—there are few signs in that language; I recall reading a statistic recently that 95% of Dutch people are conversant in English. I guess that that reflects that statistic.

As for the languages I hear, Schiphol is still ever international, though of course there is still a lot of Dutch.