Computational Social Science Summit – Big ideas real research, nice people

121003__TxPEP_030by Amanda Stevenson

At this weekend’s Computational Social Science Summit at Northwestern University, scholars working at the intersection of computer science, social science, and information science converged to share their work. As someone who applies computational methods to answer sociological questions, the summit was like a reunion with people I never see at my usual conferences but whose papers I read enthusiastically. The summit began with workshops (computational basics like bash commands and version control with git, text analytics, R for social network analysis, and Python for natural language processing) and a Datathon (basically a hackathon for social science). The general sessions included panels and a series of five stellar keynotes.

The keynotes provided deep insights from leaders at the cutting edge of computational methods in social science research. David Ferrucci (led the team that built Watson – the computer that won Jeopardy) provided high-level insights into learning, meaning, and statistics, as well as the processes underlying computational approaches for stitching together processes into products. A sociologist by training, Sandra González-Bailón has been at the forefront of using social media data and sophisticated computational methods to understand social movements as they increasingly employ online platforms. Neuroscientist Moran Cerf discussed the brain and highlighted the social forces and processes that shape the brain on the most basic, physical level. Michael Macy made a strong argument for big data as the end, not of theory, but of statistics. Information science professor Katy Börner presented and discussed her film Humanexus, a collaboration with two artists illustrating how knowledge and communication have changed and are changing through the ages.

There is so much opportunity in this high-profile interdisciplinary field and this summit provides training, exposure to the most recent findings and methodological innovations in the field, and an opportunity to get to know the folks doing the work. The summit’s small size (it sold out!) and lots of integrated breaks and social events made it easy to get to know lots of potential collaborators. I hope that next year UT Austin can have a stronger contingent of sociologists at the Summit!

Brandon Robinson in the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

IntoWhiteLatino

This image is an example of the data Brandon Robinson analyzed in his article. In the profile description you can read that the user is into “white and Hispanic guys.”

by Eric Enrique Borja

Brandon Robinson’s latest article, “Personal Preference” as the New Racism: Gay Desire and Racial Cleansing in Cyberspace, has been recently published in the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.

Abstract:
In this article, I examine how race impacts online interactions on one of the most popular online gay personal websites in the United States. Based on 15 in-depth interviews and an analysis of 100 profiles, I show that the filtering system on this website allows users to cleanse particular racial bodies from their viewing practices. I use Patricia Hill Collins’s concept of the “new racism” and Sharon Holland’s ideas on everyday practices of racism within one’s erotic life to explain how these social exclusionary practices toward gay men of color in cyberspace are considered not to be racist acts.
Specifically, I show how the neoliberal discourse of “personal preference” effaces the larger cultural assumptions that are influencing people’s interpersonal and psychic racial desires, furthering an erotic new racism in this digital age. By also turning to a queer of color analysis, I posit that the practices that gay users engage in lead to the remarginalization of all nonheterosexual individuals, though in qualitatively different ways.

OnlyWhiteGuys copy

This image is another example of data Brandon Robinson analyzed in his article. In this post you read, “I usually only hookup with white guys.”

You can also read Robinson’s other articles in the following journals: Sexuality Research & Social PolicyDeviant BehaviorCulture, Health & Sexuality, and Social Theory & HealthHe also has a book chapter in the anthology A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopias.

American Hustle – Women in the Culture Industry

by UT Austin post doctoral researcher Allyson Stokes
contributing to Work in Progress
The Sony hacking scandal of 2014 has Americans talking about gender inequality. One of the notorious leaked emails revealed that the two female stars of the film American Hustle, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, earned less back-end compensation for the film than their male co-stars, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper (7% versus 9%). This despite the fact that all four actors are comparable in terms of star power, critical acclaim, and award nominations for their performances.
Information also came to light about a pay gap between top executives. Among the 17 Sony employees whose salaries topped 1 million dollars, there is only one woman – Hannah Minghella, Co-president of Production at Columbia Pictures. Even more striking is the fact that Minghella earns much less than her co-president, Michael Deluca, a man with the exact same job title. While Deluca’s salary is 2.4 million, Minghella earns 1.5 million annually. Full post. . .

Enjoying our 2015 prospective student visitors

It’s always fun to meet our future cohort members and finally put a face to a name.  As Austinites, we have a natural inclination to talk about how much we love it here, perfect for recruiting our new colleagues. Who will be back in the fall?

 

Esther Sullivan in the latest issue of Contexts

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by Eric Enrique Borja

In her photo essay “Same trailer, different park,” which is featured in the “In Pictures” section of the new issue of Contexts magazine, Esther Sullivan reflects back on two years of ethnographic fieldwork. She conducted her field work in closing mobile home parks to better understand individual and community-wide responses to mass eviction and community dissolution.

Esther writes:

“I’m in my Florida room inside the Silver Sands Mobile Home Court. It is a linoleum-floored, screened in porch that runs the length of my single-wide trailer. Fifteen feet away, in front of my neighbors’ powder blue mobile home, a decorative sign reads: “Welcome to Paradise.” I’m tending the orchids my neighbor across the street gave me when another of our neighbors left to move in with his children, abandoning an extensive orchid collection in his still-furnished mobile home. I mist my orphaned orchids to the sounds of an old radio. I hear country singer Kacey Musgraves croon, “Same hurt in every heart. Same trailer, different park.”

It resonates. All of us here in Silver Sands are being evicted. This 55-and-older mobile home park once housed about 130 residents. The few who had money saved or families willing to house them are already gone. The rest of us have six months to get our selves, our belongings, and our homes off the property…”

To read more, be sure to click on this link: “Same trailer, different park”

Beth Cozzolino instrumental in the creation and passage of the Graduate Student Bill of Rights

Beth daily texan

by Eric Enrique Borja

Our very own Beth Cozzolino has successfully passed the Graduate Student Bill of Rights. A project Beth has spearheaded since the Summer of 2014. If it were not for her hard work and dedication, as well as the help of fellow committee members (Margaret Clark, David Ottesen, and Jake Jordan), the Executive Board of GSA and some members of the Graduate Student Workers, this bill would have never passed.

Thank you Beth!

Here is a link to the Daily Texan article about it: GSA approves Graduate Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

Reflections: On “Disciplinary Histories and Racialized Epistemologies”

SociologyT_300

Canon – a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works.

by Anima Adjepong

Ask any student of Sociology to name the foremost sociological theorists and you’re likely to get the same response: Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. Scholars such as W.E.B Dubois, who conducted and wrote the first urban sociological study The Philadelphia Negro (1899), and Charles S. Johnson, whose book The Negro in Chicago (1922) provided an elevated analysis of the institutional structures of anti-black racism that led to the Chicago race riots in 1919, are rarely taught in introductory sociological theory classes, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level. Instead these scholars are read as prominent African-American scholars whose knowledge production is marginal to the sociological project.

The marginalization of scholars of color within the discipline is indicative of how the sociological canon is constructed through what philosopher Charles Mills (1997, 18) calls an epistemology of ignorance, which involves learning to “see the world wrongly, but with the assurance that this set of mistaken perceptions will be validated by white epistemic authority.” Sociologist Stephen Steinberg (2007) offers an excellent explication of how the epistemology of ignorance shapes sociological thought. Steinberg’s core argument is that sociology operates under epistemologies of ignorance and wishful thinking, which obfuscate the problems of oppression and racism. Instead these epistemologies ensure that as a discipline, we ask the wrong questions and insist on maintaining a cool distance from choosing a side on political issues.

In an invited lecture organized by the Race and Ethnicity Group and sponsored by the Warfield Center and the Center for Women’s and Gender StudiesProfessor Gurminder Bhambra offered an analysis of how the racialized character of sociological thought, which absents certain theorists from the construction of the discipline, hinders an understanding of race and ethnicity beyond questions of distributional inequality or identity. As scholars, our best work is the kind of work that produces insights into the normal operation of racial structures. As Vilna Bashi Treitler (2015) wrote, “[Social scientists’] work may be used either in the service of shoring up or dismantling racial systems (and there is no third option)” (160). When we fail to challenge the racialized epistemological frameworks of our discipline, we contribute to sustaining racial inequality and other forms of social justice effected through racism.

Bhambra is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick in the UK and currently a visiting fellow in the sociology department at Princeton University. She has written widely on historical sociology, contemporary theory and postcolonial and decolonial studies. Her first book, Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination (2007) examines how the sociological task of making sense of modernity fails to engage critically with how, through colonialism, the histories of Europe, Asia, and Africa were connected in the construction of modernity. Instead, she argues, sociological renderings of modernity are constructed through what J.M. Blaut (1993) calls telescopic history, which takes the present conditions in Europe and the West and uses these conditions to make claims about the past. Within this framework, European success has nothing to do with its exploitative economic relationships of other parts of the world.

Bhambra’s most recent book, Connected Sociologies (2014) extended this line of thought by arguing that a reliance on Europe as the epicenter of modernity fails to incorporate the ways in which colonial and postcolonial relations shape modernity. She argues for a historical sociology that incorporates a postcolonial critique, which allows us to deconstruct the ideologies and cultural frameworks that shape understandings of modern cultural, political, and social formations.

Professor Bhambra’s lecture, entitled “Disciplinary Histories and Racialized Epistemologies” further animated her arguments through a discussion of the current limitations of conventional sociology and a look towards what a departure from the dominant racialized epistemological frame might bring. Bhambra argued that by critically examining the connectedness of the sociological world through an acknowledgment of how, for example, European ideas spread through the world as a result of colonialism, imperialism, oppression, and enslavement, a different and more accurate narrative emerges. Connectedness urges us to reconsider historical connections and open up examinations from and of different perspectives. It is not simply a question about inclusion, but rather a push to critically examine and redress the sociological consequences of the erasure of certain perspectives that challenge dominant myths that surround the rise of the West and the way we understand the world today.

To return to the composition of the U.S. sociological canon and its silences regarding challenges to the racialized epistemology, I want to note a few things that Bhambra’s talk highlighted for me and that I hope our intellectual community will reflect on and practice. Firstly, it is important that our theory classes challenge the socially constructed sociological canon that relies on epistemologies of ignorance. Failing to do so is a great disservice to our students who are working hard to make sense of a world in which historical and contemporary connectedness are more explicit everyday.

Secondly, we can be more open to applying a postcolonial critique to sociological studies. This perspective opens up space to think more critically about the connectedness of contemporary and historical formations and the ways in which particular historical narratives undergird ideal type comparative models. For example, the dominant assimilation paradigm that frames immigration scholarship relies on the historical experiences of white immigrants to the United States. However, this model ignores the ways in which this paradigm excludes people of color. A postcolonial perspective considers how the historical narratives that proffer assimilation as the teleological endpoint for immigrants relies on an incomplete understanding of the social world in which the framework is constructed (for more see Spickard 2007; Pierre 2004). By taking seriously how the racialized epistemologies of our discipline hinder our understanding of key sociological tenets, and working to redress these conceptual issues (which also frame our methodologies) we can, as a discipline, produce knowledge that dismantles racial systems.


Works cited

Bashi Treitler, Vilna. (2015). Social Agency and White Supremacy in Immigration Studies. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1(1): 153-165.

Bhambra, GK. (2014). Connected sociologies. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic Press

Bhambra, GK. (2007) Rethinking Modernity: Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination London, UK: Palgrave.

Blaut, JM. (1993) The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Du Bois, WEB. (1899). The Philadelphia Negro: a social study (No. 14). Published for the University of Pennsylvania.

Feagin, JR. (2013). Racist America: Roots, Current Realities and Future Reparations. New York, NY: Routledge

Johnson, CS. (1922). The Negro in Chicago: A study of race relations and a race riot. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Mills, CW. (1997). The racial contract. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Pierre, J. (2004). Black immigrants in the United States and the” cultural narratives” of ethnicity. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 11(2), 141-170.

Spickard, P. (2007) Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity. London, UK: Routledge

 

What is the Most Interesting Thing You Hope to do: A Workshop with Dr. Randall Collins

Randall Collins


What is the Most Interesting Thing you Hope to do?

by Julie Beicken

Power, History, and Society (PHS) has for years provided an invaluable forum for faculty and graduate students interested in political sociology and comparative and historical sociology. Recently, the organization has offered graduate students and faculty the very unique opportunity of participating in workshops with esteemed members of the field, Dr. Theda Skocpol in the spring of 2014 and this past week (February 6, 2015), Dr. Randall Collins. Both Skocpol and Collins are giants in Sociology—not only in their specialty areas but the discipline on the whole. Both have straddled many divisions within sociology—from historical sociology to human behavior, from macro to micro, etc.—and utilized multiple methods in their work. The opportunity for graduate students to spend even just a couple of hours in their presence is a truly wonderful gift that PHS has given to the department and the UT community on the whole.

Collins began the workshop on Friday morning with a challenging question to the students. Rather than having us state our names and areas of study, as is often the case in these settings, Collins had us explain the most interesting thing we would like to do. While a small degree of discomfort was immediately visible on many students’ faces, the exercise prompted us to think outside of our immediate sociological worlds of comprehensive exams and dissertations and think big—what would we really like to look at/wrestle with/study/explore? The answers—from gaining greater access to elites to establishing methods to study social media—were exciting and helped us to think about our existing work within our field of study and pushing it to new depths.

Collins, like Skocpol, has been a part of sociology for a long time. Both have seen the discipline go through many changes. As graduate students, for whom the ‘now’ of sociology is very pressing, it is exciting to have the opportunity to engage with scholars who understand the constraints of the disciplinary moment but also see the possibility for innovation. For example, Collins spoke with ease about transitioning from his micro work to his macro, something that seems like a huge challenge to many of us. Similarly, Skocpol talked about matching method to her research question, and being open to multiple methodologies. Both workshops have given students at UT the chance to speak openly and frankly with experts of sociology, and we have all walked away the wiser for it.


Doing Quality Sociology: Moving Beyond the Quantitative-Qualitative Debate.

by Amina Zarrugh

Dr. Randall Collins posed a seemingly simple, but exceedingly thought-provoking, question to commence the graduate student workshop  – what is the most interesting thing you hope to do in your work? The question in isolation appeared simple, but as student brows wrinkled in perplexity and eyes averted upward in contemplation, it was clear that the question hadn’t been asked of us in a long time, if ever. Everyone in the room ultimately had an opportunity to share their aspirations. These intellectual ambitions ranged from learning about populations difficult to access—such as interviewing prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp or understanding the dynamics of why individuals return to their country of origin after migrating elsewhere—to making memorable interventions and contributions in our respective fields.

This introductory query, and the collective responses that followed, set the tone for the workshop, which concerned the state of sociology today and the spaces open for innovative work. A central tenant of the discussion was that the overuse of the qualitative-quantitative semantic among sociologists and erected institutionally in departments emerged a false dichotomy. Regardless of overtures to the contrary, qualitative and quantitative work is mutually constitutive.

Qualitative work, including historical sociology and ethnography, informs and delineates the very categories with which quantitative sociology deals so squarely. Despite the primacy and privilege accorded to quantitative sociology, both financially by way of funding structures and socially by way of policy relevance, some of the most dramatic and influential work in the field of sociology has been qualitative. Collins invoked Emile Durkheim, who stated that “history should be sociology’s microscope,” to emphasize how deep historical perspective can offer new variables and contexts of understanding that are mutually beneficial to advancing both qualitative and quantitative work and, ultimately, our understanding of pressing societal issues.

These discussions brought to the fore the importance of thinking creatively about methodologies, the forms of data we collect, and the assumptions we make in the process. Collins (who was trained within the school of symbolic interaction) believes in expanding data used to understand social life to include videos, social media posts, and photographs. His attention to incorporating new methodologies and materials into the fold of sociology echoes calls for innovations that have been taking place across the social sciences. It also resonates with conversations in our department over the past several years, such as the Race and Ethnicity Group’s discussion about “live methods” with Goldsmiths University of London Professor Les Back in May 2013, or the talk by University of Warwick Professor Gurminder K. Bhambra in the week that followed Collins’ visit.

The thread that binds the ongoing discussions in our departmental community is the transition from what I’ve come to call a “bigger, better, faster, stronger sociology” (i.e., more interviews, bigger data sets, exclusive networking opportunities) to a  more reflexive, thoughtful, sincere, and conscientious approach to sociology. Then, perhaps most significantly, to our own interactions with one another as colleagues. This change must start with us individually, as exemplified by the question Collins posed at the start of the workshop. However, any “statistically significant” change is made possible through genuine solidarity, and robust support for one another that simultaneously transcends and is strengthened by our methodologies, our areas, and our geographies of study.

The Peddlers and the World Cup: A Brown Bag with Jacinto Cuvi and Calla Hummel

by Eric Enrique Borja

jacinto-finalOn Friday the 20th at 1pm, the UT-Austin Ethnography Lab will host a Brown Bag series with Jacinto Cuvi. Jacinto will discuss his paper entitled, “The Peddlers and the World Cup: Mega Events’ Unequal Impacts on Informal Markets,” which he co-authored with Calla Hummel, who will join the Brown Bag via Skype.

Paper Abstract:

Mega sporting events inject millions of dollars in the local economy. Yet few studies assess how gains and losses are distributed among local actors, especially marginal groups. Under what conditions do informal market actors benefit from mega events? Hummel

This paper analyzes original survey, interview and ethnographic data on street vendors in São Paulo, Brazil during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. We find that most vendors lost money and many went into debt, while a minority of vendors made record profits, worked less, and generally benefited from the event. We argue that informal groups like street vendors are both heterogeneous and unequal. We show that World Cup “winners” were high up in preexisting hierarchies or possessed specific assets unequally distributed across gender and age groups. Status differences also skewed the distribution of payoffs from an official program to incorporate peddlers. We conclude that mega event and informal market policies must actively counter these hierarchies in order to benefit all.

Twenty-one days of lynching and three jute bags: A Brown Bag with Jorge Derpic

pic of jorge

by Eric Enrique Borja

On Friday the 13th at 1pm, the UT-Austin Ethnography Lab will host a Brown Bag series with Jorge Derpic. Jorge will discuss his paper entitled, “Twenty one days of lynching and three jute bags. Collective violence and state presence in rural Bolivia,” which he will present at the 2015 American Sociological Association annual conference.

Below is an excerpt from his paper:


During the first week of July 2009, Pedro Condori, 35, asked his nephew, Roberto Mamani, 24, to join him on a trip to Tawa – a rural community ten hours away by bus from the government seat, La Paz. There was a one-night job opportunity at the local school and the possibility to earn some money. At first, Roberto was unsure about the offer – not for nothing his uncle had a dubious reputation among the family – but Pedro finally convinced him, offering 200 Bolivianos ($30 U.S. dollars) in reward for his company.

Early in the afternoon of July 9, the couple departed from Oruro, a small city located five hours away from Tawa. They arrived at 9 p.m., and went straight to the local school named after Pope Benedict. There, they run into Antonio Rodríguez, the janitor, who happened to be wandering around the school’s courtyard. They waved at each other, and seeing there were still people awake, the couple left town. They found a place where to lie down for a couple of hours in the surrounding mountains.

At 1 a.m. Pedro woke Roberto up. They walked back to the school. This time there was no one in the streets. While Roberto waited at the school’s entrance, Pedro ran inside the classrooms. He found nothing. On his second attempt, he walked to the computer lab, and with the help of a kickstand, he broke in. He came back with a heavy jute bag full of stuff and gave it to Roberto. Then he went back inside, half an hour passed when he finally returned with another bag the same size.

The couple had no car of their own, so they put the bags on their backs and walked out of town. Four hours later they arrived at a house Pedro had in Chua, another rural community. There was a hole already dug. They proceeded to bury two computers, three printers, a DVD player, one TV and some accessories. Then they walked to the main road located two hours away. A bus passing by took them back to Oruro.

Twenty-one days later, residents of Lawa brutally murdered Roberto’s younger brother, Ernesto Mamani, who at the time was 20. How did an individual, who had not directly participated in the robbery of the school’s equipment, become a victim of the rage of an entire community? This can only be explained by looking at the development of the events, the actions undertaken by local leaders to solve the crime, and the relative absence of state institutions in the area.

 

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