by Corey Robin
Midterm elections are like fancy software: Experts love them, end-users couldn’t care less. But if the 2010 elections are any indication, we might not want to doze off as we head into the summer months before November. Midterm elections at the state level can have tremendous consequences, especially for low-wage workers. What you don’t know can hurt you — or them.
In 2010, the Republicans won control of the executive and legislative branches in 11 states (there are now more than 20 such states). Inspired by business groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, they proceeded to rewrite the rules of work, passing legislation designed to enhance the position of employers at the expense of employees.
In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof lamented the lack of influence of professors in “today’s great debates.” Many academics took to the blogosphere retorting that, yes, in fact, public intellectualism is alive and thriving in the academy. My colleague Chris Prener posted a more sympathetic response on this blog, arguing that having a twitter account and a blog does not make an academic a public intellectual. It is the content of the message, not the medium, which matters.
Both Chris and I agree with Kristof that there are not enough public intellectuals because of structural and cultural barriers within the academy, including a tenure process that rewards only academic output and places severe time constraints on the ability of academics to engage wider audiences.
Unfortunately, Kristof completely loses the plot when he suggests that economics is more engaged in “real-world debates” than sociology because the former has more Republican members (plus more “empiricism and rigor”).
Symbolic Power, Politics, and Intellectuals: The Political Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu by David L. Swartz (University of Chicago Press, 2013).
The multi-faceted work of Pierre Bourdieu, clearly one of the greatest post-World War II sociologists, has inspired much research in a wide variety of areas, such as culture, taste, education, theory, and stratification. Largely neglected, however, is the underlying political analysis in Bourdieu’s sociology, his political project for sociology, and his own political activism. Yet the analysis of power, particularly in its cultural forms, stands at the heart of Bourdieu’s sociology. Bourdieu challenges the commonly held view that symbolic power is simply “symbolic.” His sociology sensitizes us to the more subtle and influential ways that cultural resources and symbolic categories and classifications interweave prevailing power arrangements into everyday life practices. Indeed cultural resources and processes help constitute and maintain social hierarchies. And these form the bedrock of political life.
Have you ever wondered why sociological research and insights do not occupy a more prominent place in U.S. policy circles or in the American public consciousness? Sociology’s performance in this regard may reflect the discipline’s efforts to promote (or avoid) approaches like public sociology that actively encourage engagement with the public. Research about U.S. culture and individualism, however, suggests two other reasons sociologists may get a chilly reception when we try to promote our research in the U.S. Read More
It’s not easy being a social scientist during this election season, particularly if you like to feel well-informed. I don’t know about you, but on many days I am confronted by a flood of information that I feel woefully underequipped to process. Perhaps I should not let this bother me. I tell students in my research methods class that good scientists should be comfortable acknowledging what they do not know. It is just hard sometimes to take my own advice. Read More
by Edward Walker, University of California-Los Angeles
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations have caused, to say the least, quite a stir in the weeks since the first events in the New York financial district on September 17. Organized with explicit reference to the Arab Spring uprisings, activists responded to a February call by the Canadian magazine Adbusters for a “Tahrir square moment” targeted against Wall Street financial firms, which they called “the greatest corruptor of our democracy.” Although the first events included only a small number of activists and looked like to many like a bust, fortuitous events facilitated broader mobilization: mass arrests of over 700 demonstrators who thought they were following the officially sanctioned march route over the Brooklyn Bridge, a YouTube video of an officer pepper-spraying a seemingly defenseless group of activists, and the early support of the Airline Pilots Association (followed by significant additional union support in the following weeks). The campaign’s reach has become astoundingly broad; as of October 15, the movement claims to have a presence in over 100 U.S. cities and over 1,500 global cities. Even if these figures can be discounted to some extent as self-serving overestimates, the ability of the campaign to capture public attention has been remarkable. For instance, Nate Silver notes that the movement received a cumulative 3,000 print stories over the first three weeks of its existence, and my own October 16 search of NewsLibrary shows that an additional 4,500 stories have been published in the week since Silver’s October 7 accounting. Media coverage of the movement seems to be following an accelerating production function, to use Oliver and colleagues’ (1985) terms. By this metric, OWS is on pace to receive more cumulative early coverage than the first Tax Day Tea Party events in April 2009, despite OWS’s minimal initial coverage and associated questions about the its legitimacy early on. Further, the movement is gaining major traction in public opinion, as 54% now hold a favorable view of these demonstrations (this compares to the 27% favorable view held about the Tea Party movement). Read More