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Posts in “Orgtheory”

Mon, Oct 10, 2011

A Sociology of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs had charisma. What does that mean? Narrowly, it means something about the force of the man’s personality and its effects on those who worked for him at Apple. More broadly, it has something to do with his gradual emergence as a cultural icon over the past decade. The wave of emotion that washed across the Internet following the news of his death is evidence of how important he was to many people.
Sun, Feb 20, 2011

The U-Shaped Theory of Higher Education

Many forms of education run on a simple principle: if you get good applicants and train them in a straightforward fashion, you will get good results. In higher education, you start with freshmen. Then you flatten them (Econ 101) or mash them (Organic Chem). Add literature requirements or a foreign language. If you want a light taste, add a Phys Ed requirement, study abroad, or art appreciation. That brings me to my theory of price-quality correlation in higher education.
Thu, Dec 23, 2010

Happy New Year going forward

A seasonal message from Jamie Targett, our Director of Corporate Affairs Soon it will be time to remove all traces of the officially authorised low-key festive accessories that have decorated our offices during the festive season. Time also to turn our faces towards the future that is to come. Time to evaluate our personal strategic objectives and our intended goal outcomes. Time to contemplate our game plan, examine core competencies, reinforce best practices, break out of silos, exert maximum leverage, evolve new synergies and maximise our skill sets.
Fri, Jun 5, 2009

Friday Night Frivolity: Finnish Edition

I had all my wisdom teeth removed earlier today and so I am perhaps not quite at the peak of my game. Although, if you ask me, there is quite a good argument to be made that the AMR is best read while high on a cocktail of extra-strength Advil, Vicodin, and Haagen Daz ice cream. Here instead, in honor of Teppo, is a clip from an episode of BBC car show Top Gear featuring one of the presenters, James May (aka “Captain Slow”), getting a lesson in rally car driving from Mikka Häkkinen, and subsequently entering a local Folk Rally.
Mon, May 18, 2009

Shake-n-Bake Social Theory redux

I think I’m broadly on Fabio’s side when it comes to the question of the vagueness of concepts in the social sciences. I think my main caveat is that, based on the evidence, successful social science requires precisely specified concepts coupled with a willingness—perhaps elevated to a principle—to strategically ignore any amount of empirical evidence accumulated against them. But enough trolling. Beyond the problem of vague concepts lies the question of vague argument.
Tue, May 5, 2009

University flamewars

Sean remarks below that … these writers … are condemned for applying rigorous ideas in a careless manner. (Some of my colleagues here in the rigor-fixated halls of the University of Chicago have a particularly snide way of referring to this kind of work: this is the kind of work they do at Harvard.) With no connections to either Harvard or Chicago, I don’t have a dog in this fight. But key flaws in my personality leave me unable to resist formulating the obvious rejoinder from Cambridge, viz, that as the intellectual home of pragmatism in its many forms, Chicago is where they apply careless ideas in a rigorous manner.
Fri, Mar 27, 2009

One Man and His Dog and His Giant LED Array

Strategy, planning, management, execution, and quasi-emergent synergistic properties … clearly this film needs to be shown as a matter of routine in MBA courses. Specifying who exactly should be the farmers, the dogs and the sheep can be left to the class as a team-building exercise.
Thu, Feb 26, 2009

FaceBook Quiz

Following up on Bradyen’s post, here’s my FB network, minus a few isolates: The graph clumps into several connected subgroups. There’s family in Ireland, sociology types, philosophy types, and blogger types—these categories aren’t necessarily exclusive. An imaginary prize to the first commenter who can guess the identity of the node colored in green, who seems to be at the center of everything.
Thu, Oct 23, 2008

Apple hires Joel Podolny

Via John Gruber comes news that Apple has hired Joel Podolny away from his position as Dean of Yale’s Business School to lead a project called “Apple University”. The Wall Street Journal says: The Cupertino, Calif., computer maker said Joel Podolny, the dean of the Yale School of Management, will join Apple as vice president and dean of Apple University. The company declined to provide details about the university or the position.
Tue, Aug 5, 2008

Economics and the Sociology of Culture

There’s been a bit of chat about “Cultural Sociology and its Others”, the Culture Section one-day conference held before the ASA meetings this year. This has broadened out into a discussion of the place of cultural analysis within sociology, and the relative position of the subfield. Some people worried about the allegedly marginal status of culture within sociology. Other people pointedly said that they were rather central figures in the discipline, thank you very much.
Sun, Jun 29, 2008

Git Bibs

Over the past few months, I’ve been messing around with Git and Mercurial, two modern, distributed version control systems (DVCSs). While designed by software engineers, these systems are very useful to people who, like me, write papers and do data analysis in some plain-text file format or other, who very often revise those files, sometimes splitting them off into different branches as projects develop, and who do this work on more than one computer.
Fri, Jun 6, 2008

Performativity avant la lettre

I just noticed the last paragraph of White’s “Notes on the Constituents of Social Structure” (1965), which we’ve been talking about this week. Either-or intensities and infinitely sharp criteria of membership have been assumed in defining nets and cats. The realities of social structure are more blurred. The most revealing approach to these realities is through analysis of the validation and legitimation structures and processes which settle issues of existence and intensity of ties and attributes in social systems.
Thu, Feb 7, 2008

On Wasting One's Time

At Scatterplot, Shamus remarks in passing that some people have told him that blogging while untenured is a bad idea. In the comments, olderwoman says: The problem with blogging for untenured people is not what you say (unless it is so egregious it makes national news or something) but that it is a recreational activity. There are a fair number of academics — in my experience, mostly but not only men — who believe that single-minded devotion to career is everything when you are young.
Wed, Jan 30, 2008

Theory is dead, long live theory

In comments at Scatterplot, Dan Hirschman asks, A colleague of mine in graduate school interested in social theory claimed there were no longer job postings available for specialists in theory. Instead, budding theorists have to masquerade as ‘cultural sociologists’ or something like it. Does that hold up to your impressions of the Sociology job market? What advice would you give to a budding sociology PhD who wanted to concentrate on social theory?
Fri, Dec 21, 2007

Workflow Update

Following on from our discussion of editing tools the other day, and in response to a couple of requests, I have updated and somewhat expanded my note about Choosing Your Workflow Applications. The revised version talks about which operating system to choose (to a first approximation, these days I’m agnostic), focuses on Emacs+R+LaTeX as an integrated set of high-quality apps available for free across all the major platforms, and then points to some alternatives (like Stata and various editors).
Mon, Dec 17, 2007

Facebook Friends

Not one but two former office mates of mine are quoted on the front page of the Times today in a story about Facebook. Jason Kaufman talks about his work with Nicholas Christakis on patterns of affiliation amongst Facebook users. Our own Eszter Hargittai talks about her research on comparative adoption of Facebook and MySpace. And my brilliant colleague Ron Breiger will doubtless be pleased to see that Georg Simmel gets a shoutout too, for the idea of triadic social closure.
Thu, Dec 13, 2007

The Right Tools for the Job

A discussion about Mac applications at Scatterplot (which is threatening to spill over into a Windows vs OS X war) reminded me of something. Although not by any means a quant jock, a good deal of my work involves analyzing quantitative data. Almost since I learned how to do that kind of thing at all, I have used software tools designed to make the process easier and less error-prone. The most basic of these is a proper programmer’s text editor with support for whatever statistical software I’m using.
Thu, Jul 19, 2007

Sciences Dismal and Cheery

Fabio says By emphasizing social dysfunction, we become associated with dysfunction. A basic finding in the study of the professions is that the prestige of your clients is a big predictor of your prestige. Also, if that’s what the average college student takes away from sociology – that it’s the field of social problems – then that’s the image they’ll have about us for the rest of our lives. Quick, which is the dismal science?
Mon, May 21, 2007

Mary Douglas Interview

From Alan Macfarlane, an interview with the late Mary Douglas. The full interview (almost an hour and a half) is available on Macfarlane’s website, which has a terrific number of such conversations with social anthropologists and sociologists. Here’s the full menu. Highlights include Ronald Dore, Raymond Firth, Audrey Richards (worth listening to for a great anecdote about Malinowski and colored pencils), and many others. Also worth checking out is film from a pair of seminars from 1976 and 77, with roundtable discussion from the likes of Jack Goody, Ernest Gellner, Maurice Godelier, Tom Bottomore, Edmund Leach, Edward Thompson, and others.
Sat, Apr 28, 2007

Freakonomics Review

Following up on the ongoing discussion about Freakonomics, my review of the book just came out in Sociological Forum, and I think it overlaps a bit with some of the things Omar was saying in the comments to Fabio’s post. (A layout issue in headline makes it look as though I’m the author of the book and Levitt and Dubner are reviewing it. Sadly for my bank manager, this is not the case.) As it happens, this essay started out life as a blog post I wrote for Crooked Timber’s Seminar on the book.
Thu, Apr 19, 2007

Reviews Galore

Articles from this year’s Annual Review of Sociology are starting to appear online in advance of their hardcopy publication, and in a tasty new layout, too. It’s a good year for people interested in social organization, economic sociology and culture. The essays include: The Consequences of Economic Globalization for Affluent Democracies by David Brady, Jason Beckfield and Wei Zhao. Toward a Historicized Sociology: Theorizing Events, Processes, and Emergence, by Lis Clemens.
Thu, Mar 1, 2007

Market Incentives and Moral Responsibility

On Bloggginheads.tv, Virginia Postrel and Dan Drezner discuss organ markets, Virginia’s recent spat with Amitai Etzioni, and the importance of making clear that Kieran Healy Is Not A Libertarian. In the discussion, Virginia wonders what I think of Etzioni’s view. In his letter to the New York Times, Etzioni decries the prospect of market incentives in organ exchange and proposes this alternative: Actually, what we need is more, not fewer, evocations of our moral responsibilities.
Mon, Feb 26, 2007

Viviana Zelizer on Econ Talk

Continuing the trend of Libertarian economist types talking to sociologists, here is Viviana Zelizer being interviewed by Russ Roberts (of George Mason University) on Econ Talk, a podcast hosted by the Library of Economics and Liberty.
Wed, Dec 27, 2006

OrgTheory of a Kind

Here’s something I’d forgotten I’d written. An early, co-authored publication of mine in ASQ. Sadly, only the first page survives. In case you’re unfamiliar with the topic, I should say that the bibliographical references and quotations are all perfectly accurate. Any resemblance to this paper is wholly accidental.
Sun, Dec 10, 2006

MacKenzie's Engine

I have been extremely irresponsible about my contribution to our OrgTheory book seminar on Donald MacKenzie’s An Engine, Not a Camera. But for once this is because my thoughts on the book metastisized into an article-length something-or-other. I’m still working on it so I won’t inflict it upon you (but stay tuned: eventually I will). Instead, here is a long excerpt. At the risk of sounding like Saul Kripke, some disclaimers: I’ve dropped some of the throat-clearing sign-posting introductory stuff and also left out supporting material in the middle; there’s another whole bit to the paper which I’m not putting in here; and I’m still not sure what I think on some points.
Thu, Nov 9, 2006


I think this is called a “market correction.” Looks like the last days of Long Term Capital Management. I finally finished MacKenzie’s book, and now I promise to write something about it.
Sun, Nov 5, 2006

More Cartwright

Following on from Omar’s post about Nancy Cartwright’s The Dappled World, I will abuse my right to post here to point to this review of the book by Laurie Paul. Paul is a very intelligent philosopher (her unwise decision to marry me was an uncharacteristic lapse), and her review gives a good sense of the response to Cartwright’s position within philosophy. I’ve found that social scientists who read Cartwright’s book are excited and interested by it.