Category Archives: Scholars

D’Souza is a Travesty of an Analyst… and I have to let go of that…

Dinesh D’souza is speaking in a week here.  A student club is bringing him.  He is a travesty to literary analysis as he bases his whole “Obama wants to destroy America” on a wacky reading of Obama’s book.  I would get nothing out of going and challenging him.  But it irks me no one else might not.

Link to talk: http://susquehannavalleyconservatives.com/community-corner/

Stanley Fish says what I would like to: “This is disappointing. While a viewer could certainly disagree with D’Souza’s analysis of the genesis and emergence of Obama’s views, it is nevertheless an analysis to which one could respond in the usual spirit of intellectual debate by saying things like “you’ve left something out” or “you draw your conclusion too quickly.” But as the movie picks up polemical speed, philosophy, political theory and psychology are left behind and replaced by name-calling, and by a name-calling that brings D’Souza close to positions he rejects. For instance, he rejects birtherism, the contention that Obama was born in Kenya and is hence not an American citizen; but he replaces it with a back-door, or metaphorical, birtherism when he characterizes Obama as an alien being, as a fifth-column party of one who has pretended to be an American, and technically is one, but really is something else.”  http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/obama-dsouza-and-anti-colonialism/

Leave a comment

Filed under Bucknell, Politics, Power, Activism, Scholars

Junior Faculty Jitters

Subject lines from a senior colleague that are likely to make a junior colleague hit the ceiling.

– “Bad news for you.”
– “There is no such thing as too much teaching.”
– “How about chairing the X committee?”
– “PUSHED THE WRONG BUTTON!”

 

Which one did I get today?

Click to see. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under humor, Scholars

Popular Economics Writing

Like most of us, I want to understand the economy and the political economy for my teaching and for my own sake.  I enjoy reading what we might call “popular” economics writing.  For example, I always try to check out James Surowiecki’s column in the New Yorker called the “Financial Page.”  Recently he wrote about the classic arguments about the source of unemployment: structural or cyclical factors (January 3,2100; page 23).  He pointed out how a blind allegiance to a vague ideology explains the persistence of belief in the idea that there must be something structural with unemployment this time.  In other words, the problem is that we do not have the “right kind” of workers for the available jobs.  Stimulus can do nothing since we just need to wait for people to retrain or leave the labor force, or die, I suppose.  If structural, then we just have to let labor markets “sort themselves out.”   The problem with the structural argument, as Surowiecki points out, is that there is scant evidence for it.  Payrolls are down and hiring stagnant across the board and not just in certain industries.  What are the industries with openings and not enough supply of workers?  None.

I have also picked up two books that I am making my way through.  One is “Crisis Economics” by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm.  I heard about him on the Planet Money podcast as one of the the economists who tried to sound the alarm bell on the housing bubble when no one was listening.  I am not sure that makes him clairvoyant all the time (of course!  He is an econmist!) but it seemed worth checking out.  I am only into the second chapter, but he already said something I have repeated so often in my classes: greed does not explain the bubbles nor their negative after effects.  My students almost universally will latch onto greed as the explanation and I see it as a key teaching need and challenge to get them off that well-worn groove.

There are two flaws in this kind of folk explanation.  First, greed can only be an explanation if you ignore the complexity of human systems and assume that what we observe as facts is due to the choices of a few people.  Given the complexity of human behavior and the way our actions are shaped by our history and context, one can not argue that it the recession is due to “some greedy people.”  This is the flaw of an under-socialized theory of human agency.  The second flaw is to grant the causal force of greed to the fact that some unspecified amount of people have just become more greedy.  As Roubini points out as well, why would wall street types become more greedy from 2002 to 2008?  Or from 1978 to 1998?  Aren’t they always very acquisitive and ambitious?  In fact, isn’t that exactly what my students admire and idolize about a career in finance?  There is no clear causal argument for why many more people would become greedy.  This line of folk reasoning makes invisible all of the inter-related organizational, institutional, and cultural forces that can interact to change the conditions of being “greedy” to make it either a controlled burn of energy or an uncontrolled conflagration. This is the second half of the under-socialized view (the term comes from the essay by Dennis Wrong) because it points out what needs to be added to have a more accurate theory of human agency.

In other words, greed ain’t enough to explain this shitstorm of economic problems.  To rely on this flawed reasoning leaves one to argue that the solution is for people to out of the blue just be “less greedy” and “more moral.”  To try to apply these solutions will only perpetuate an under-socialized view of human agency and any possibility for more effective action that addresses the conditions that enabled the recession.

3 Comments

Filed under economics, macroeconomics, Scholars, Uncategorized

Solution to QDA Needs, Alpha

As I posted here, I was looking for a way to do some basic Qualitative Data Analysis with a colleague who is not co-located (very not!  Ted is in Singapore.)

Thanks to Debra Sarlin, of Bucknell, and this ethnographer’s blog, I isolated some possibilities.

Part of my search led me to Nvivo, an off the shelf product that looks like it has some great properties.  Bucknell has a license, but not the server version.  Without the server version, I am back in square one of needing a way to share data, protect data, and dynamically code data.  Hence, for now, I am proceeding with my Alpha solution.  In a nutshell, this has two parts.

  1. Use Google sites as a private site to create files of our own data like transcripts, chat logs, field notes.
  2. Use Zotero to cite and share third party data like blogs, news articles and so on.

The key to this is that Ted and I develop our  list of tags to identify relevant themes and then find those data points later.  Standard QDA methodology and our own experience tells us that this is an iterative, dynamic process.  There is no one best solution for the tagging piece.  I think our best bet is to keep a “master file” of tags in google sites.  We can each print it up and also access anytime we are on line to jar our memory and cue ourselves as to what is significant or salient in raw data.

Ted and I had a trial run last week and I think we both realized quickly that ideally we could have some sort of a floating box on top of all applications that would allow us to tag almost anything, and tag within documents or files.  This would be linked to the more powerful kinds of QDA tools.  Well, like a platonic ideal, that floats out there as something we are aiming towards in our little jerry-rigged solution.

Our solution has some side benefits

  • Google sites can also be used as a wiki-like creation to share our concepts or coordinate other research.
  • I _think_ if we ever want to turn on part of google sites as a public portal/URL we can.
  • We can use Zotero to share scholarly citations also.

I made the following graphic as a flow chart for this alpha solution.

Comments welcome, of course…

How to use a hybrid of google sites and Zotero to do collabroative QDA

I am not sure if this is legible…

Leave a comment

Filed under higher education, Research, Scholars, Uncategorized

Elaine Pagels and Book of Revelations

Elaine Pagels, the noted  Biblical scholar and author, came to BU this week. I was super excited as I find the early history of Christianity fascinating.  How did such a marginalized sect become so dominant?  I had heard Pagels a few times on the usual suspects: Fresh Air, Bill Moyer’s, and so on.  Add to that the intoxicating aroma of fire and brimstone and I had high hopes for a mind-blowing lecture.

I was not alone!  Trout Hall was packed to the gills.  Curious students?  Nervous Christians?  Wild-eyed present day prophets?  All there!

The lecture was a bit of a flop.  She presented three interesting questions, in this order (which is also the order of interest to me):

  1. What is Revelations about?
  2. How did it make it into the canonical Bible?
  3. What explains its enduring popularity?

The strength of the lecture were her clear explanation of the content of Revelations.  She had several images from Western art from the 15th century to now.  She explained that Revelations was anti-Roman propaganda meant to counter Roman propaganda.  Babylon, in Revelations the source of worldly, political, profane, hedonistic power and society, is a stand in for Rome and is then shown to be an ally or pawn of monstrous, dark forces.    I am not a religion scholar, but I thought this point was already well-established.

As to the other two questions, she did not get very far in exploring or answering them.  All right, that is excusable.  She did say it was a work in progress. She went to Q&A after about 50 minutes or so.  She did not really engage in dialogue with anyone and her response was usually a variation of  “I’ll look into that.”  Disappointing.

You would think someone as visible as she is, writing on such touchy topics as religion and original texts would be used to lots of challenging questions from the folks who take the Bible VERY seriously.  The man asking a question before me really got into his rambling groove.  The long beard and switching between Hebrew (I think) and English added to his modern-day Ezekiel quality.  To me, and most, it was incomprehensible.  I think he was saying that that Ctaholic church is the “whore of Babylon.”  In fact, it is the Catholic Church literally, that the author of Revelations is doing the future and not his own times.  Anyway, the whole audience went from polite indulgence to awkward silence.  I almost asked him to wrap up after five minutes of this before Pagels cut him off.  She needed to step in earlier and politely dispatch him.  Take a page from Obama v Republicans!

The upside of his ramble was it gave me time to formulate my own suggestion to her about the staying power of Revelations.  Caveat: I am not a religion scholar and this is all off the top of my head.  Take it or leave it, but I won’t be doing more witht his than what I write here.

Premise 1: Revelations is full of multi-valent symbolims.  This is part of its appeal.  The reader can see many possibilities in any one image.

Premise 2: Revelations is about the tension between socio-political struggles of this world and how to understand them from a religious worldview.

My assertion: For any present day reader, Revelations DOES NOT MAKE SENSE.  I mean, it can not cohere in its entirety.  It offers the illusion of total allegory with the first two premises.  But it can never really deliver.  So, it’s very nonsensical essence is part of its enduring popularity.

Furthermore, there is a deep resonance with the ultimate incoherence of the text and the inability of interpreting it to reach a final resolution because the socio-political struggles of the messy world of human affairs also never really resolve.  I heard someone quoting some British politician recently who said that all political careers end in failure.  The point: there is never any enduring permanent victory for any side or actor in any of the many struggles that define our wordly existence.

Revelations can not make sense in terms of a final conclusion.  The real world also can not make sense.

But the multi-valent imagery and symbolism invites the reader to try to wrangle coherence out of Revelations, and by extension the real world.  The result is that the act of reading becomes an act of heroic interpretation.   The heroic interpretation then becomes a binding moment.  The reader becomes their own prophet, becomes one who sees the implications of the future in the present.

Revelations is popular because it doesn’t make sense.

2 Comments

Filed under higher education, religion, Scholars, sociology

SOCNET discussion on miltary and ethics (2 polls)

9 Comments

Filed under ethics, higher education, Military, Research, Scholars, Social Networks

Pretty good advice from fallen Fals Borda

Orland Fals Borda,  a Columbian sociologist active since the 1960s, had this to say.

Obituary: Orlando Fals Borda | World news | The Guardian
There he delivered a speech in which he outlined four of his own guidelines for sociology researchers: “Do not monopolise your knowledge nor impose arrogantly your techniques, but respect and combine your skills with the knowledge of the researched or grassroots communities, taking them as full partners and co-researchers. Do not trust elitist versions of history and science which respond to dominant interests, but be receptive to counter-narratives and try to recapture them. Do not depend solely on your culture to interpret facts, but recover local values, traits, beliefs, and arts for action by and with the research organisations. Do not impose your own ponderous scientific style for communicating results, but diffuse and share what you have learned together with the people, in a manner that is wholly understandable and even literary and pleasant, for science should not be necessarily a mystery nor a monopoly of experts and intellectuals.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Power, Activism, Scholars, sociology

Blau Exchange: Charles Tilly Interview

This was a treat to find.  And reassuring as it is basically the trajectory I am trying to follow.

Blau Exchange: Charles Tilly Interview
Paul DiPerna:

If you have any advice for the next generation of scholars and researchers in the social sciences, what would you like to tell them?
Charles Tilly:

Don’t get blindsided by neuroscience, which is going to make individualistic, brain-centered accounts of human behavior even more popular for the next ten years or so. Anticipate the following phase, when even the neuroscientists will begin to recognize the importance of social interaction in the formation of individuals.
Paul DiPerna:

Along similar lines…. if you have any hopes for the next generation of scholars, what would you like to ask of them?
Charles Tilly:

Figure out how to do relational analyses that provide valid explanations of individual behavior and are accessible (at least in simplified form) to readers outside of social science.

Leave a comment

Filed under Great Quotations, Networks, Scholars, social theory, sociology

Charles Tilly is gone…

The Bwog
Charles Tilly, the eminent Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science, passed away this morning. An official University-wide announcement is still in the works, though some of his students and colleagues have organized a vigil tonight at 7 p.m. that will take place under his Fayerweather office’s (514) window.

You can read more about Tilly and some of his work here. Although, if you’ve taken any courses in social science, it’s likely you’re already well-acquainted with his ideas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scholars, social theory

Amory Lovins at PSU

Amory Lovins will speak at PSU on April 29.

He comes up in one of my favorite books- The Age of Heretics by Art Kleiner.  I use it in my Organizing Change Class.   he was a young energy policy prodigy back in the 1970s when we first dealt with energy issues as a society.

Now his expertise need is coming around again.

Leave a comment

Filed under innovation, Scholars, technology