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Tag Archives: Sociology

Image: Picserver.org (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Image: Picserver.org (CC BY-SA 3.0)

by Scott C. Whiteford and Natasha M. Ganem

Searching for the term “leadership” in six key journals published by the American Sociological Association* from 1994-2014 brings up 31 peer-reviewed articles. This stands in stark contrast to the 2,848 papers published by these journals in total. By this measure only about 1% of sociological research is dedicated to leadership.

We have only found one book chapter that addresses the question of what a sociology of leadership might be. In Nohria and Khurana’s (2010) edited Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, sociologist Mauro F. Guillén provides a review of classical sociological approaches to the study of leadership yet directly acknowledges too that there is no such thing as a separate subfield of ‘the sociology of leadership.’

We are frustrated by this. Why is this topic off-limits in sociology? Might we consider Leadership as a substantive area in sociology? What would this look like?

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dollarIn early June, it came to light that last October, Walt Disney World Orlando eliminated the jobs of 250 data systems employees. The move made national news not because so many workers became jobless, but because Disney offered a severance bonus to employees who remained with the firm long enough to train the young immigrant workers who would assume their tasks.

The heartlessness of this move left workers and consumers reeling. A former Disney employee told a reporter for the New York Times, “It was so humiliating to train someone else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.” Outrage spread across news and social media, fueled by dismay that a company so closely associated with wholesome family entertainment would betray its workers in this way.

Many observers lamented loopholes in the H-1B visa program used to secure the replacement workers’ entry to the US, and endorsed reforms that would reduce impacts on American workers. Relatively few seem to grasp that Disney’s moves are rooted not in policy loopholes or corporate malfeasance, but instead are part and parcel of capitalism. Outsourcing, layoffs and swiftly severed ties – this is what capitalism looks like. As Karl Marx pointed out in his Manifesto of the Communist Party, workers, who under capitalism “must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.” The “increasing improvement” of production methods “ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious.” Manual workers confronted this reality decades ago, as plants in the United States closed and production moved overseas to take advantage of lower-cost labor. Increasingly, professional workers are also feeling the pain of displacement. And there is only more to come.

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busy-600x600Before you continue reading, I want you to do an experiment.  Go to the first person you see and ask them, “How are you?”

My guess is that a lot of people you asked (especially if you are at work) said, “Busy.” (I suspect the runner-up responses are “Tired” or “Stressed” which are related to being busy.).

If you are wondering what happened to the response “I’m fine” or “I’m OK,” read on.

In her new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the TimeBrigid Schulte draws on research from psychology, sociology, management, economics, medicine, and personal experience to talk about being “time poor” or simply  being busy.  The book has generated a great deal of interest, been reviewed in the NY Times, the Washington Post, and was named a top book of 2014. Read More

Intertemporal_Choice

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

by Philip Cohen

There is a lot to be said for the common critique of economists: They see society as the product of freely acting, rationally calculating individuals for whom monetary reward is the primary source of motivation. Free markets, to them, are the pure expression of social function and economic growth through their realization is the only outcome that matters.

But people do not simply act rationally to maximize their economic rewards, because they can have incomplete or inaccurate information, ideological biases, conflicting desires or collective interests. Exploitation, dishonesty, violence, ignorance and demagoguery set vast areas of social life apart outside the model. The multiplying exceptions overwhelm the rule bringing the model’s utility into question.

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Source: Money, by 401(K). CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.

by Elizabeth Popp Berman and Daniel Hirschman

There’s a puzzle around economics. On the one hand, economists have the most policy influence of any group of social scientists. In the United States, for example, economics is the only social science that controls a major branch of government policy (through the Federal Reserve), or has an office in the White House (the Council of Economic Advisers). And though they don’t rank up there with lawyers, economists make a fairly strong showing among prime ministers and presidents, as well.

But as any economist will tell you, that doesn’t mean that policymakers commonly take their advice. There are lots of areas where economists broadly agree, but policymakers don’t seem to care. Economists have wide consensus on the need for carbon taxes, but that doesn’t make them an easier political sell. And on topics where there’s a wider range of economic opinions, like over minimum wages, it seems that every politician can find an economist to tell her exactly what she wants to hear.

So if policymakers don’t take economists’ advice, do they actually matter in public policy? Here, it’s useful to distinguish between two different types of influence: direct and indirect.

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Nytimes_hq

Source: Wikimedia Commons

by Philip Cohen

The economist Justin Wolfers, writing for the New York Times Upshot, reports that economists increasingly outnumber other social scientists in mentions in the both the Times and — even more — in the Congressional Record. About 1% of Times stories use the word “economist,” more than three-times as often as they write “sociologist.” Here’s his figure tracking Times references:

wolfers-nyt-mentions

In the Congressional Record the economist-sociologist ratio is 20-to-1. I’ll show some other numbers, but first a little setup.

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Vidal[Ed note: This is the final of 14 posts in a virtual panel on The Future of Organizational Sociology.]

In this closing essay of a virtual panel on The Future of Organizational Sociology I want to suggest a direction that was only briefly hinted at in two of the preceding 13 essays: More engagement with political economy. Harland Prechel argued for a need to focus on how political-legal institutions shape managerial behaviour and Jerry Davis discussed increasingly precarious employment for the working class. The broader subfield is also largely silent on issues of political economy, with a very few notable exceptions including Neil Fligstein and Jerry on financialization, Mark Mizruchi on the corporate elite and Harland on big business and the state.

In my view there is much to be gained from engaging traditional organizational theory with political economy focused on structures and dynamics of profit seeking, capital accumulation and class relations. A turn to political economy can help to grasp the deeper structures and historical dynamics underlying the mid-range phenomena that are typically the focus of organizational theory.

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