Note-taking for Principles of Empirical Research with Christine Voulgarides

Pager, Devah. (2007). MARKED: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Page 21 of Pager’s book includes this chart, showing annual prison admissions for drugs by race in the United States. In the 1980s, we imprisoned roughly the same numbers of black and white people for drugs. There are about six times as many white people as black people in the population generally, so unless you believe that black people do drugs at six times the rate white people do, there would appear to have been some racism at work.

Pager 2007 p 21

Then in the late 80s, there was an incredible jump in the number of black prisoners, leading to the present situation, where there are between two and three times as many black people in prison for drugs as white people. While America has become less racist in some respects, this statistic tells us that we are not making as much progress as we like to imagine. These facts also have implications for the history of hip-hop. You can see the rise of both gangsta and overtly socially conscious rap in large part as a response to the devastating effect of this sentencing disparity.

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Ain’t No Makin’ It

Assignment for Approaches to Qualitative Inquiry with Colleen Larson

If you’re looking for a gripping and highly readable (though depressing) sociological study, I strongly recommend this one.

Ain't No Makin' It

The purpose of MacLeod’s study is to understand how class inequality reproduces itself, using the example of two groups of young men living in a housing project. He asks how these young people reconcile America’s dominant ideology of individual achievement, where success is based on merit, and economic inequality is due to differences in ambition and ability, with the reality of the participants’ own limited choices and opportunities. In particular, MacLeod addresses the question of whether education ensures equality of opportunity as it is purported to do.

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Ideological and Theoretical Assumptions

Note-taking for Principles of Empirical Research with Christine Voulgarides

Special Ed

Artiles, A. J. (2011). Toward an Interdisciplinary Understanding of Educational Equity and Difference: The Case of the Racialization of Ability. Educational Researcher, 40(9), 431-445.

Artiles explains how a civil rights victory for learners with disabilities has become a way to oppress racial minority students. He cites statistics showing that African Americans are more than twice as likely as their white peers to be diagnosed with intellectual disability and one and a half times as likely to be diagnosed with emotional or behavioral disturbance. Other minority groups are similarly over-represented. After kids get placed in special education, their academic outcomes are usually bad, and their economic prospects are correspondingly limited. Even within the disabled population, white students tend to do better than their minority peers. While poor kids are likelier to be diagnosed with disabilities, race is a significant predictor of diagnosis even if you control for poverty.

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Objectivity, Positivism, and Epistemological Others

Note-taking for Principles of Empirical Research with Christine Voulgarides

Weber, Max. [1904](1949). “Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy,” In The Methodology of the Social Sciences, Max Weber, translated and edited by Edward Shils and Henry A. Finch. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Pages 49-112.

Max Weber - The Methodology of the Social Sciences

Sociology arose in order to make value judgments about measures of state economic policy. For Weber, though, an empirical science can’t provide binding norms and ideals that you can use to immediately derive policy from. “An empirical science cannot tell anyone what he should do—but rather what he can do—and under certain circumstances—what he wishes to do.” Social science can attain objectivity only by keeping out the researcher’s value judgments about their subjects’ goals. In the same way, economics claims objectivity because economists don’t take positions on what people are supposed to value.

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Examining the Assumptions Underpinning Interpretive Inquiry

Note-taking for Approaches to Qualitative Inquiry with Colleen Larson

Willis, J.W., (2007) Foundations of Qualitative Research, Sage, chapters 5-6.

Jerry Willis - Foundations of Qualitative Research

Postpositivist social science research involves six steps:

  1. Find an idea to research. The idea can come from anywhere, including your experience or whatever qualitative data.
  2. Develop or select a theory. It can be a nineteenth century style all-encompassing theory, a Merton-style midlevel theory, or a minitheory like learned helplessness. Sometimes you choose a theory to test first and then look for a way to test it.
  3. Develop specific, testable hypotheses derived from your theory (the hypothetico-deductive model.)
  4. Design a study to objectively gather quantitative data under controlled conditions that allow you to draw conclusions about your hypotheses.
  5. Analyze the data using standard statistical techniques and interpret the results using the guidelines of the scientific method. A positive outcome supports your theory but doesn’t prove it beyond any doubt.
  6. Report your work in an objective scientific paper format.

When social scientists differ on the outcomes of research, it’s usually a conflict of paradigms. In the 1950s and 1960s, psychological studies of gay people found they weren’t as “well adjusted” as straight people of similar backgrounds and age. At the time the assumption was that homosexuality was a deviant pathology, so that alone explained the unhappiness of gays. When the field started thinking of homosexuality as just another sexual preference, they interpreted gay unhappiness as the result of persecution by a hostile society. The same empirical observations support different conclusions depending on your assumptions. So is postpositivism in social science really more about arguing beliefs than proving truths?  Continue reading

Classical composers, Bowie and Björk

This post originally took the form of a couple of Twitter threads, which I’ve collected and edited here for easier reading.

Greg Sandow asks two very interesting and provocative questions of classical music:

When the Museum of Modern Art did its first retrospective of a seminal musical artist, no surprise it was Björk who reached past music into the larger cultural world. Some day, couldn’t somebody from classical music do that? When a major musical artist died and the New York Times did more than 20 stories tracing his influence on our culture and on people’s lives, well, of course it was David Bowie. Couldn’t it someday be someone from classical music?

My answer: Probably not.

Björk in 1993 by Jean-Baptiste Mondino David Bowie

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