In his follow-up to Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari envisions what a 'useless class' of humans might look like as AI advances and spreads - "I'm aware that these kinds of forecasts have been around for at least 200 years, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and they never came true so far. It's basically the boy who cried wolf, but in the original story of the boy who cried wolf, in the end, the wolf actually comes, and I think that is true this time." [more inside]
Why do so many terrorists have an engineering background? Is there something about the way engineering students are taught to think? Or are people who prefer clearly solvable problems drawn to engineering? Scholars in a variety of disciplines are trying to understand what makes people turn to terrorism. An anthropologist argues that universities and governments make it difficult to study the socio-cultural backgrounds of terrorists because of human subjects research policies. Nevertheless, since 9/11 a growing number of social scientists are addressing the issue. These are just a few examples.
In The American Prospect, Sociologist Richard Alba discusses two reasons why the Census-projected relative demographic decline of White Americans may prove illusory.
‘‘Alice used a writing style that today you can’t really use in the social sciences.’’ He sighed and began to trail off. ‘‘In the past,’’ he said with some astonishment, ‘‘they really did write that way.’’ The book smacked, some sociologists argued, of a kind of swaggering adventurism that the discipline had long gotten over. Goffman became a proxy for old and unsettled arguments about ethnography that extended far beyond her own particular case. What is the continuing role of the qualitative in an era devoted to data? When the politics of representation have become so fraught, who gets to write about whom? [more inside]
"When defined in terms of social identity and affect toward copartisans and opposing partisans, the polarization of the American electorate has dramatically increased...Our evidence demonstrates that hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ minds, and that affective polarization based on party is just as strong as polarization based on race. We further show that party cues exert powerful effects on nonpolitical judgments and behaviors. Partisans discriminate against opposing partisans, doing so to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race. " (PDF). [more inside]
In 2014 a Gulfstream plane crashed and burst into flames in Bedford, Massachusetts, killing seven people (NTSB animation). Aviation writer Ron Rapp argues that the cause was not defective equipment or simple complacency, but the normalization of deviance, whereby "people within [an] organization become so much accustomed to a deviant behavior that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for the elementary safety." This was also considered to be a factor in the crashes of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. The creator of the concept and author of The Challenger Launch Decision, sociologist Diane Vaughan, is interviewed here. (transcript)
Professor of Mathematics Izabella Laba's "A Response to … " Scott Aaronson's "Words Will Do". An exchange between a mathematician and a computer scientist, on the use of terms including: privilege, hegemony, false consciousness, mansplaining, etc., and the general problem of clear communication, when the social sciences are applied towards political causes. [more inside]
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari - "The book delivers on its madly ambitious subtitle by in fact managing to cover key moments in the developmental history of humankind from the emergence of Homo Sapiens to today's developments in genetic engineering." Also btw, check out Harari on the myths we need to survive, re: fact/value distinctions and their interrelationships.
The collection is helping to solve a slew of scientific and societal puzzles — not least, a paradox about modern life. There is a widespread perception in Western countries that life today is much busier than it once was, thanks to the unending demands of work, family, chores, smartphones and e-mails. But the diaries tell a different story: “We do not get indicators at all that people are more frantic,” says John Robinson, a sociologist who works with time-use diaries at the University of Maryland, College Park. In fact, when paid and unpaid work are totted up, the average number of hours worked every week has not changed much since the 1980s in most countries of the developed world.
A series of 55 animated vintage book graphics by Henning M. Lederer
By analysing the language of popular magazines, TV shows and self-help books and by conducting interviews with men and women in different countries, scholars including Eva Illouz, Laura Kipnis and Frank Furedi have demonstrated clearly that our ideas about love are dominated by powerful political, economic and social forces. Together, these forces lead to the establishment of what we can call romantic regimes: systems of emotional conduct that affect how we speak about how we feel, determine 'normal' behaviours, and establish who is eligible for love – and who is not.
In some areas (e.g., Pittsburgh, Raccoon City), zombification is now more common than attending college or serving in the military and must be understood as a modal life course event. Even if one is “objectively” a mindless animated corpse, one cannot really be said to be fulfilling one’s cultural role as a zombie unless one shuffles across the landscape in search of brains.
The Washington Post has a puzzle to see how well you understand social networks. The day’s political issue: whether baseball caps are fashionable. More explanation and the solution below the jump. [more inside]
Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations. So says Tage Rai, whose research with anthropologist Alan Fiske analysed violent practices across cultures and history. [more inside]
Nuance is revered in higher education. That’s especially true in sociology, where scholars spend their lives digging into the fine grain of human social behavior, often finding even finer grain underneath. Which is why it came as such a surprise — and perhaps a relief — when Kieran Healy, an associate professor of sociology at Duke University, last week brought a blunt message to the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting: "Fuck Nuance."[more inside]
"Gentrifiers are people with medium or high incomes moving into low-income neighborhoods, attracting new business but raising rents, and often contributing to tensions between new and long-term residents. Sociologists coined the term, which alludes to the European gentry—and which has only become more loaded at a time of skyrocketing rents and profound demographic changes in American cities. But are you a gentrifier?" [SLSlate]
The IBM Watson Personality Insights service uses linguistic analytics to extract a spectrum of cognitive and social characteristics from the text data that a person generates through blogs, tweets, forum posts, and more. Just enter a chunk of text with at least 100 recognized words and Watson will break down your (or Hitler's or Donald Trump's) personality compared to other participants. [more inside]
Confronting New Madrid (Part 1): In the winter of 1811-12, the New Madrid fault in southern Missouri triggered a series of earthquakes in so powerful they altered the course of the Mississippi River and rang church bells as far away as Philadelphia... and we still don't fully understand why. A similar quake today is estimated to be the costliest disaster in US History.
Confronting New Madrid (Part 2): As dangerous as the threat of "the big one" might be, however, the real disaster is us. [more inside]
Confronting New Madrid (Part 2): As dangerous as the threat of "the big one" might be, however, the real disaster is us. [more inside]
Some Paths to the True Knowledge[*] - "Attention conservation notice: A 5000+ word attempt to provide real ancestors and support for an imaginary ideology I don't actually accept, drawing on fields in which I am in no way an expert. Contains long quotations from even-longer-dead writers, reckless extrapolation from arcane scientific theories, and an unwarranted tone of patiently explaining harsh, basic truths. Altogether, academic in one of the worst senses. Also, spoilers for several of MacLeod's novels, notably but not just The Cassini Division. Written for, and cross-posted to, Crooked Timber's seminar on MacLeod, where I will not be reading the comments."
A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history. Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”
America’s Changing Religious Landscape: The Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life has published the results of a new study of the religious affiliations of Americans, and finds a precipitous drop in the share of Christians since the last such study in 2007, along with a massive increase in the share of "nones" (which includes atheists, agnostics, and believers with no religious affiliation) and a small increase in the share of non-Christian faiths. Highlights below the fold. [more inside]
The New Yorker investigates the differences between "e-laughter" in its latest cultural commentary. [more inside]
From The Bitter Southerner: Dixie Is Dead
A thoughtful TLDR by Gamasutra blogger Wai Yen Tang: The take home message is that the cultivation effects of sexist attitudes from a general use of videogames over a three year period from a German population has not resulted in any appreciable changes in sexist attitudes. ... The authors argued that factors, such as personal experience, peers and family would have a stronger effect on sexist attitude than video game content. Link to study (might not work on mobile)
A short history of gaming in Brazil: "To understand the history of gaming in Brazil dear reader, you must know a little bit about our political and economic history ... In 1991, a small publisher by the name of GSA published a roleplaying game called Tagmar [translation], often lauded as the first Brazilian RPG. ... They also released Desafio dos Bandeirantes, a game set in 17th century colonial Brazil using regional folklore instead of European myths, and a sci-fi game, Millenia [translation] ... In February 1994, the Brazilian authorities set in motion a major economic plan that invigorated the Brazilian economy for the first time since 1973. By March, the currency stabilized enough to assure the population (and companies) that their money would be worth the same by the end of the week ... The happy result for gamers was that companies started buying game licenses right and left." Via. See also History of Brazilian RPGs, History of Brazilian RPG magazines, Role-playing games in education in Brazil: how we do it [PDF], and President Cardoso reflects on Brazil and sociology.
To survive on this shore: Photographs and interviews with transgender and gender variant older adults is a joint project of photographer Jess Dugan and professor Vanessa Fabbre. It combines photographs of transgender and gender variant people over the age of fifty with interviews about their life experiences of gender, identity, age, and sexuality.
Amazon's Mechanical Turk has become an important tool for social science research, but a fascinating piece by PBS Newshour discusses why this might be a problem, with a great profile of professional survey takers, who average hundreds, even thousands of social science surveys each. This is not just idle speculation, recent research [PDF] shows that experienced Turkers no longer have typical "gut reactions" to social experiments, creating a struggle with how to deal with non-naivete [PDF]. Take a look at the questions that professional Tukers are asked the most, and be sure to take the survey in the middle of the first article! [more inside]
The Big Fun Glossary: “Big Fun began its life as the home of the Malvern Girls, three young adults from the Philadelphia Suburbs. From its initial disastrous housewarming and continuing on through the worst winter on record and into a spring infested with ticks, flies and cicadas, Big Fun, a stately yellow farmhouse in rural Central Virginia, saw many interesting sights: impromptu punk rock concerts, Dextromethorphan chug-fests, Nomadic Festivals, nazi skinheads, and (most importantly) record alcohol consumption. Like most tight social groups, Big Fun had its own language, history and collection of in-jokes. This website is designed to grant you access to the inner workings of this remarkable youth culture as it actually functioned in the mid-90s.” [more inside]
Religion in China: Cracks in the atheist edifice - "Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says the Christian church in China has grown by an average of 10% a year since 1980. He reckons that on current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China's Christian population the largest in the world. Mr Yang says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire." [more inside]
"A longtime feminist, Kimmel maintains a delicate balance when handling his sources. He wants to be sympathetic to the people he interviews and yet loyal to his academic principles. After a series of humbling recessions and other economic shifts, men like Rick feel emasculated and humiliated, he writes, 'betrayed by the country they love, discarded like trash on the side of the information superhighway.' Their sin, according to Kimmel, is a failure to adjust. These guys refuse to admit they’ve been handed privilege all these years by a world that puts white men on top. White men, he writes, 'have been running with the wind at our backs all these years,' and 'what we think of as ‘fairness’ to us has been built on the backs of others.' The New York Times reviews sociologist Michael Kimmel's 2013 book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. [more inside]
When Subalternist theorists put up this gigantic wall separating East from West, and when they insist that Western agents are not driven by the same kinds of concerns as Eastern agents, what they’re doing is endorsing the kind of essentialism that colonial authorities used to justify their depredations in the nineteenth century. It’s the same kind of essentialism that American military apologists used when they were bombing Vietnam or when they were going into the Middle East. Nobody on the Left can be at ease with these sorts of arguments.Vivek Chibber (Professor of Sociology, New York University) discusses the pitfalls of postcolonialism in the wake of his controversial book Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. [more inside]
Hollaback and Why Everyone Needs Better Research Methods (And Why All Data Needs Theory), by Zeynep Tufekci:
I’ve taught "introduction to research methods" to undergraduate students for many years, and they would sometimes ask me why they should care about all this "method stuff", besides having a required class for a sociology major out of the way. I would always tell them, without understanding research methods, you cannot understand how to judge what you see.[more inside]
The Hollaback video shows us exactly why.
"today we have an almost unprecedented situation...We have a lot of people...boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine...And we have those same people absolutely ripping into their in-groups---straight, white, male, hetero, cis, American...This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point...people who conspicuous love their outgroups, the outer the better, and gain status by talking about how terrible their own groups are. What is going on here?" (Slate Star Codex) [more inside]
Ebola and the Construction of Fear by Karen Sternheimer (Everyday Sociology)
"Sociologist Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things, explains how misguided panics are not just benign opportunities to prevent something horrible, but can divert attention and public funds away from more likely threats. He notes:[more inside]Panic-driven public spending generates over the long term a pathology akin to one found in drug addicts. The money and attention we fritter away on our compulsions, the less we have available for our real needs, which consequently grow larger (p. xvii).
Did Hollywood Give the 1920s a Boob Job? 'Gatsby' Costume Designer Tells All
Breasts are everywhere in 2013’s new "Gatsby"… They’re pushed up to create cleavage, peeping out of frocks and fringed flapper dresses, and hugged tightly by clothes cut to show off curves. As Daisy Buchanan, Carey Mulligan is clearly wearing some sort of shapewear or bra under even her most modest clothes, to make her breasts seem perfectly perky.[more inside]
Catherine Martin, the producer, production designer, and costume designer of "The Great Gatsby," says that she simply took the styles of the 1920s and amped up the sexy quotient—and made the dresses fit more like the designers intended.…
"Frankly, I am a bit shocked by Martin’s quotes regarding the 1920s—that she considers the clothes frumpy looking," [co-founder of the Fashion History Museum Jonathan] Walford says. "She was the wrong costumer to get the job if she can’t see the beauty in the real 1920s silhouette."
Retail Therapy: What Mannequins Say About Us
Like the larger fashion industry, mannequin design echoes seasonal styles that come and go, both in regard to technological improvements and the way we view our bodies. “It’s often the body attitudes and facial expressions that reflect what’s going on socially,” says Hale. Accordingly, the stiff, unnatural bodies of early mannequins were well-matched for the Victorian Era‘s restrictive ideas about women’s rights and fashions, which dictated they wear many layers of heavy fabric over tight-fitting corsets.[more inside]
For it is the future generation in its entire individual determination which forces itself into existence through the medium of all this strife and trouble...That growing affection of two lovers for each other is in reality the will to live of the new being, of which they shall become the parents...The lovers have a longing to be really united and made one being, and to live as such for the rest of their lives; and this longing is fulfilled in the children born to them, in whom the qualities inherited from both, but combined and united in one being, are perpetuated...Therefore Nature attains her ends by implanting in the individual a certain illusion by which something which is in reality advantageous to the species alone seems to be advantageous to himself... Arthur Schopenhauer on the Metaphysics of Love.
Introducing Sociology: Tim Kreider's influential 1999 essay (previously) on how Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut uses sex and infidelity to cover up a story of greed and murder by the elite gets a brand new afterward by the author to introduce a new site for his non-fiction writing, TimKreider.com
You should be ashamed -- or maybe not. 'Shame on you. These three simple words can temporarily -- or, when used too often, permanently -- destroy an individual's sense of value and self-worth.' A paper by Thomas Scheff, professor emeritus of sociology at UC Santa Barbara 'The Ubiquity of Hidden Shame in Modernity' explores the danger of hidden emotions: ""In modernity, shame is the most obstructed and hidden emotion, and therefore the most destructive," said Thomas Scheff, professor emeritus of sociology at UC Santa Barbara. '"Emotions are like breathing -- they cause trouble only when obstructed." When hidden, he continued, shame causes serious struggles not only for individuals but also for groups.' [more inside]
Keith Hampton, an associate professor in Rutgers' School of Communication and Information, filmed people in Bryant Park (among other locations) in an ongoing effort to recreate and update sociologist William H. Whyte's Street Life Project. [more inside]
"If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars? One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill."
Dwarf Fortress: A Marxist Analysis
What one does in Dwarf Fortress is create a colony of an existing dwarven fortress – you’re always sent out as a team from a much larger existing stronghold elsewhere, and your foreign relations with other dwarves are limited to that particular fortress, on the whole. Even though your settlement is independent and self-governing, and the relations with the mother fortress mostly those of trade, the purpose of the game in all its open-endedness can be nothing other than to create oneself in the image of the previous fortress. In other words, fundamentally in Dwarf Fortress you reproduce the existing structure of dwarven society on a merely quantitatively expanded scale.[more inside]
Political theorist Juan Linz died Tuesday at the age of 86. His work focused on comparative government, including studies on totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Linz was also a prominent critic of the presidential system of government used in the United States and in much of Latin America. In his essay, "The Perils of Presidentialism" (later expanded into book form as The Failure of Presidential Democracy), Linz argued that presidential systems are inherently unstable, as they invariably lead to standoffs between the president and the legislature, each with competing claims to legitimacy. Thus, as in many Latin American countries, presidential systems frequently collapse, and often are replaced with dictatorships. The one exception to that pattern has been the United States--at least until recently. In an interview in January of this year, Linz argued that the US was succumbing to the same dysfunction as other presidential regimes. In Slate, Matthew Yglesias commemorates Linz by warning that the American system of government may be doomed to an endless cycle of crisis and constitutional disintegration, as evidenced by the government shutdown. Dylan Matthews concurs, arguing that the shutdown is "James Madison's fault."
All debates about ideas are shaped by their material conditions...Technology intellectuals work in an attention economy. They succeed if they attract enough attention to themselves and their message that they can make a living from it. It’s not an easy thing to do.