Chris Uggen's Blog: February 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Klosterman, Gans, Pekar, and Soc Images

As our Winter 2010 issue mails, I'm soooo glad we brought Contexts to Minnesota.

Our terrific culture editor Dave Grazian interviews Chuck Klosterman in a fascinating two-part podcast available now and a shorter print exchange in spring. I'm an avid Klosterman reader, so I've been scheming about how Contexts might engage his work sociologically. As we've discovered, however, it is a lot easier to talk about sociologists engaging folks like Klosterman than it is to actually pull it off. Dave was the perfect sociological interviewer -- he drew out Klosterman's big themes (authenticity, identity, celebrity...) as well as the populist vibe that pervades his work. And he got to questions of meaning and culture without the arch tone or condescension that other academics might have brought to such an interview. In my view, this is "cultural analysis," real and true. The feel of the podcast is terrific, with the bar background noise giving us the sense that we're eavesdropping on a couple of knowledgeable heads.

In this issue, we're also launching a new print feature based on Gwen Sharp and Lisa Wade's wonderful Sociological Images blog, a spirited exchange with Eric Utne, thoughtful essays by sociology students at Oregon State Penitentiary, and a rant by the editors about scientific evidence, peer review, and accessibility at Contexts. Next up? We're pulling together some great pieces on aging and discrimination for free electronic release March 1 and we're lining up Harvey Pekar and Herb Gans for the Spring issue.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

love, jasper

I'm not sure whether to credit dog or camera, but Jasper somehow wagged himself a heart. Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

bjs report on sexual victimization in juvenile facilities, 2008-09

The Bureau of Justice Statistics just released a new report on Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities based on a sample of over 9,000 adjudicated youth in 2008-2009. Overall, about 12 percent of youth in these facilities report some form of sexual victimization by staff or other residents. Many of these involved contact between female staff and male youth where no force is involved. Nevertheless, 4.3 percent of the youth reported being sexually victimized by facility staff who used force, threats, or other explicit forms of coercion.

I charted a couple of the differences in victimization by staff and other residents below. Male residents are more likely to report sexual victimization by staff (10.8%) than by other residents (2%), while the reverse pattern holds for female residents. And sexual orientation is an important predictor: over 20 percent of "non-heterosexual" youth reported some form of sexual victimization, with 12.5 percent reporting victimization by other youth.

The report "names names" by identifying the rate of sexual victimization in particular institutions (as well as the survey response rate in each institution). In the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Red Wing, for example, about 2.8 percent of youth reported sexual victimization. In Pendleton Juvenile Correction Facility in Indiana, in contrast, the rate was over 36 percent.

While such surveys are now mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, I'm both disturbed by this report's statistics and impressed by its clear and unflinching presentation.

Monday, February 01, 2010

clickers on college committees

I'm co-chairing a blue-ribbon committee to help address our immediate budget squeeze while orienting to a longer-term vision for my college. The committee is composed of 30 people, including deans, administrators, established and probationary faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students in the social sciences, arts, and humanities.

With such a large and diverse group, it can be difficult to come to consensus. Moreover, with such extreme power differentials in the room, it seemed important to build in some mechanism to ensure that we heard all the voices on the committee. We used email, of course, and set up a site to archive notes and reading materials. But not everybody weighed in either verbally or in writing. To get a better sense of the group's wishes before we prepared the first round of recommendations, my co-chair and I decided to do some instant polling using classroom clickers.

I can't report on the specifics at this point, but I think the committee members generally found this process useful. Six points:

1. We used them to get "the sense of the room" rather than to take high-stakes votes. People seemed comfortable using the results as a starting point for a focused discussion.

2. Though the committee seemed okay with the polling, they had lots of questions and qualifications about wording. For example, they noticed immediately when the answer categories were not mutually exclusive or exhaustive (in fact, several seemed to have taken some variant of Nora Cate Schaeffer's graduate seminar in questionnaire design).

3. Taking a tip from Carolyn Liebler, who uses clickers in her introductory sociology classes, we tried to offer response categories that left room for compromise (e.g., "mostly agree" or "mostly disagree") on potentially polarizing questions. We also asked variants of the "most important priority" questions that often arise in budget deliberations.

4. We were genuinely surprised with results on some items, especially when we found consensus where we'd anticipated disagreement. This helped us move expeditiously to more contentious issues.

5. I'd expected to hear at least a few groans or grumbles about "dumbing down" the process, especially since the clicker system was based on simple powerpoint slides. Nobody expressed such sentiments, but I wonder whether I should have asked this question on the last slide: How lame is this clicker exercise? (a) completely lame, (b) very lame, (c) moderately lame, (d) not so lame, or (e) not at all lame.

6. By directly addressing some of our uncertainties, the clicker data made the co-chairs a bit more comfortable writing on behalf of the group. I'm not sure whether they will bring any greater legitimacy to our recommendations, but I was glad to include the polling in our discussion of processes.