Chris Uggen's Blog: May 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

contexts and men's health

The spring Contexts has sprung. The editors are especially cruel with local submissions, wielding the critical comments of external reviewers like a bludgeon against favoritism (and, sometimes, the authors themselves). One new feature survived the torture test -- a piece on those embedded sociologists who ply their craft in non-academic fields. Excerpt:

In some settings, it is the skill of gathering basic data and organizing that information in useful ways. In others, it is the ability to put data and issues in broader perspective, with a critical edge. People like Jim Kirby are often the only sociologists in their organizations. Jim emphasized how the sociological perspective is even more valuable outside a research university: “I felt like I could contribute more, in effect, because I had a different perspective than most of the economists [around me].” Mayra Gomez gave an illustrative example. “In my work on women and housing rights, being a sociologist really gives me a different understanding of gender in society, gender roles, and gender inequality...
Embedded sociologists are working in agencies and communities on some of the most troubling problems of our time. Their research and writing is infusing society with a sociological worldview as, day by day, they conduct socially relevant research, engage policy makers, and translate sociological knowledge across disciplinary boundaries. More than this, these researchers are closer to the ground, able to see the new, cutting-edge trends and emerging developments that are shaping our social worlds for ­better and for worse.

This follows on the heels of a provocative 2010 grad student piece on sociology bestsellers. Look for another cool (and non-Minnesota) graduate student project coming up in our summer issue.

For our part, the spring editors column registers our personal and professional reactions to Men's Health -- a competing magazine with ever-so-slightly higher circulation figures. And it ain't pretty...

Well, our metabolisms aren’t “fired-up,” we’re not doing the high-intensity squats that would give us “quads of the gods,” and there are apparently dozens of “sizzling bedroom tips” that our partners wish we knew. Imagine that! (Or, maybe not.) Even worse, judging by the Ultimate Ab Workout centerfold poster, neither of us is on the Six-Pack Fast-Track....

Saturday, May 07, 2011

rock-em sock-em sociologists

While it's all well and good to share one's goals and aspirations, there's  little upside to sharing one's actual dreams with friends and colleagues. Frankly, the subconscious is just too weird, random, and/or revealing. Nevertheless, in honor of tonight's Pacquiao-Mosley megafight, here's my recent boxing dream:

I'm checking email at my desk, when I read an invitation (I think it was from Dalton Conley, but I'm fuzzy on this) to appear on a Special Boxing Session at the American Sociological Association's 2011 annual meetings in Las Vegas. The invited participants would be me, Dalton Conley, Loic Wacquant and (... wait for it ...) Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns. After some introductory remarks, Professors Conley and Wacquant would spar for 15 minutes in an actual boxing ring, and then I would fight Mr. Hearns in a three-round "exhibition" (no, there was no mention of a discussant, but that would be fun -- maybe Bert Sugar).  I immediately replied "yes" and then, milliseconds later, felt a wave of regret, wondering why they get to spar with each other and I had to fight the real boxer.

I've never been a boxer, but I once entered the ring against a real fighter in my mid-teens. Everything moved much faster than I anticipated. The punches came quick as flashbulbs and I was too slow to land a punch, avoid one, or even get my arms in position to defend myself. It was an intense and humbling experience, but I'm glad I had the adventure.

What's the dream mean? Well, it arrived the very night of a seminar discussion of Professor Wacquant's work, so that's an obvious trigger. The appearance of Mr. Hearns is more of a mystery, though I especially admired his work. His combination of a wicked-long reach and booming right hand were almost unfair -- his punches would unfurl across the ring and land with prodigious force. Since Mr. Hearns' epic battle with Marvin Hagler is most memorable to me, perhaps I'm challenging myself to be as tough and talented as the marvelous one. Or maybe I'm just conflicted about the attraction/repulsion I feel toward boxing ... and professional meetings.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

cutting corrections while supporting correctional officers

My colleague Josh Page offers a thoughtful commentary on California's prison system in Zocalo Public Square today. Quote:

Prison officers understandably worry that downsizing the correctional system will put them out of work. Thanks largely to their effective union, these officers have solid, middle-class jobs with good pay, good benefits, and good retirement packages. California officers make between $45,000 and $73,000 a year before overtime and other incentives. As the manufacturing sector declines, “prison officer” is one of the few remaining occupations providing upward social mobility for people who lack advanced degrees. This is especially true in the rural areas in which many prisons are located. Officers and their families, then, are justified in thinking that major reforms might close one of the few remaining paths they have into the middle class. Policymakers must make good faith efforts to protect these workers as they reshape the correctional system...The CCPOA would be much more likely to support reform measures if it could protect its members’ jobs along the way, or at least be persuaded that its worst-case fears are unfounded.

For more, check out, The Toughest Beat, Josh's new book with Oxford.