Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's All in How You Phrase the Question

Instrument effects in public opinion polling. See this piece in today's "Week in Review" section in the New York Times.  Are people in favor of health reform?  Turns out that government administered programs are different from government sponsored programs and especially different from government run programs.

Week in Review
Opinion Polling: A Question of What to Ask

Opinions in polls about health care seem to differ. But it’s the polls themselves that differ.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Life Imitates Math : NPR Interview with Steve Strogatz

In his new book, The Calculus of Friendship, math professor and writer Steven Strogatz looks back on his 30-year correspondence with his high school math teacher. Can calculus, differential equations and chaos theory help explain the complex nature of human relationships?  [READ MORE and listen to an interview on NPR...]

Strogatz is an applied mathematician who is a leader in contemporary interdisciplinary work on social networks and other structures found in the social and natural worlds.  We used his book, Sync, about how spontaneous order emerges out of chaos in my College 60, "Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software."  It explains, for example, how a big crowd can coordinate random clapping into a rhythmic clap-clap-clap even though the member of the audience have mostly local knowledge of the rhythm of nearby clappers.

Related NPR Stories

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Digital Dirt & Social Media Success Workshop

Wonder if employers if are checking your Facebook profile before hiring you? This hands-on workshop will provide you with practical tools to build a positive and effective presence online for prospective employers.

Digital Dirt & Social Media Success Workshop
When: Tuesday, March 2nd
Time: 4:30 pm-6:00 pm
Where: Stern 14

Learn how to...
  1. Manage digital dirt
  2. Enhance Facebook privacy
  3. Create a positive online presence
Limited space. RSVP Required:!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Researchers team up with the LAPD to model spikes in crime.

Sometimes a good model of social processes can help us to recognize different types of phenomena that otherwise look like the same thing. That's really important if you are trying to design social control responses to, say, crime. Here's a example of something that combines GIS, mathematical models, social observation, and organizational thinking.

Mills Soc-Anth Alum FB Group Reaches 50 Members

Are you a member?  Future alums as well as those who have already graduated are eligible.  Real world social events to follow.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Toward a Sociology of Privacy

P A P E R   T O P I C   A L E R T !

Privacy is a big topic these days -- from TSA screening at the airport to FaceBook applications that access your profile to oversharing in status updates to identity theft and its variants. For a smart sociologist this stuff represents a gold mine, especially because so many of the voices in the conversation are oriented toward individual perspectives and simplistic understandings of our relationship to information (e.g., as property or dignity). Google's latest, google buzz, has given rise to a flurry of commentary (and a little analysis, but mostly commentary).   A few examples of last week or two:

CNET: What Google needs to learn from Buzz backlash
Computer World: How Buzz, Facebook and Twitter create 'social insecurity'
SF Chronicle: Local class action complaint filed over Google Buzz
New York Times: With Buzz, Google Plunges Into Social Networking
                Anger Leads to Apology From Google About Buzz
                Buzzing, Tweeting and Carping
PC Magazine: Google Buzz Gets Another Off Switch
What Sociologists Come to Mind in Connection with Privacy?

Linguist Robin Lakoff at Mills

On Wednesday, March 31st, the well-known linguist and feminist Robin Tolmach Lakoff, author of Language and Woman's Place will speak to President Holmgren's "Development of English" class about how her theories have evolved over time. President Holmgren would like to open the class to anyone who is interested in hearing Ms. Lakoff speak; the class meets in Mills Hall 135, Wednesday, March 31st 1:00 - 2:15 p.m.

From UCB website:
Ph.D., Linguistics, Harvard University, 1967. She has been especially interested in the comparative syntax of Latin and English; the relation between linguistic form and social and psychological context; language and gender; discourse strategies (e.g. indirectness and politeness); discourse genres (e.g. psychotherapeutic and courtroom discourse). Her current research includes the examination of the connections between the politics of language and the language of politics, e.g. in the media treatment of the Hill/Thomas hearings, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the impeachment.
Lakoff also blogs at Huffington Post.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


ANNOUNCING:THE 2010 SUMMER INSTITUTE IN POLITICAL PSYCHOLOGY at Stanford University from July 11 to July 30, 2010

Applications are being accepted now for the 19th Annual Summer Institute in Political Psychology, to be held at Stanford University July 11-30, 2010.

The Summer Institute offers 3 weeks of intensive training in political psychology.
Political psychology is an exciting and thriving field that explores the origins of political behavior and the causes of political events, with a special focus on the psychological mechanisms at work.

Research findings in political psychology advance basic theory of human social interaction and social organizations and are an important basis for political decision-making in practice.

SIPP was founded in 1991 at Ohio State University, and Stanford has hosted SIPP since 2005, with support from Stanford University and from the National Science Foundation.  Hundreds of participants have attended SIPP during these years.

The 2010 SIPP curriculum is designed to (1) provide broad exposure to theories, empirical findings, and research traditions; (2) illustrate successful cross-disciplinary research and integration; (3) enhance methodological pluralism; and (4) strengthen networks among scholars from around the world.

SIPP activities will include lectures by world-class faculty, discussion groups, research/interest group meetings, group projects, and an array of social activities.    

Some of the topics covered in past SIPP programs include race relations, conflict and dispute resolution, voting and elections, international conflict, decision-making by political elites, moral disengagement and violence, social networks, activism and social protest, political socialization, and justice.

In 2010, SIPP will accept up to 60 participants, including graduate students, faculty, professionals, and advanced undergraduates.

For detailed information and to apply, visit this website:

Applicants are accepted on a rolling basis until all slots are filled, so applying soon maximizes chances of acceptance.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Research Topics : Citizenship in the Transnational City

A recent call for papers* provides (after some editing of its impenetrable prose)  an example of "big but somewhat focused" research questions in connection with a big topic: "urban citizenship in the transnational city."

One effect of global migration has been that many residents of the world’s cities lack national citizenship in the places they have moved to for work, refuge, or retirement. This has moved citizenship claimsmaking from national to urban scale. With this come calls for greater direct involvement of these people in reshaping the processes, institutions, and spaces that affect their life chances. 

The next volume in the Comparative Urban and Community Research book series will focus
on political organizations and coalitions that have pursued an expanded right to the city as a path to institutional changes that would empower global migrants as urban citizens. It will address questions such as

  • What are the theoretical, political, and policy objectives of organizations working to restructure urban citizenship?
  • In what spaces and at what scales do organizations seeking to restructure urban citizenship operate?
  • What organizational resources do they mobilize and with what effects?
  • Do they produce new modes of urban citizenship, and if so how so?
  • In what ways do organizations change the meaning and significance of the right to the city?
  • What coalitions are they forming, avoiding, or opposed to?
  • What institutional changes have they effected, where, and why?
  • What is the theoretical significance and practical impact of new modes of urban citizenship?
* posted on the Comurb_r21mailing list

Berkeley Colloquium Next Week: From State Theory to Theories of Empire


Yale University

From State Theory to Theories of Empire

Monday, 22 February 2010, 2-3:30 p.m.
Blumer Room, 402 Barrows Hall

Imperial crisis is the analytical axis on which turns two national states of emergency: the Weimar Republic (1918-33) and America on “the Eve of Destruction” (1965-1975). But while Max Weber debated, with Karl Schmitt, the problem of sovereignty at the core of the German imperium, American sociologists – even those inspired by Weber -- did not register either the pressing moment of political decision or the imperial crisis that they and their country faced. Why so? What were the consequences for American sociology? How, in the midst of our own imperial and domestic governmental crisis, can we reshape political sociology to do better today?

Julia Adams is Professor of Sociology, Yale University.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Altruism in Forest Chimpanzees: The Case of Adoption


[modified author abstract] Extended altruism towards unrelated group members has been called a uniquely human behavior. Support for this comes from experimental studies on captive chimpanzees. One study concluded that “chimpanzees are indifferent to the welfare of unrelated group members”. In contrast with these captive studies, observations of potentially altruistic behaviors in different populations of wild chimpanzees have been reported in such different domains as food sharing, regular use of coalitions, cooperative hunting, and border patrolling. This raises the question of what socio-ecological factors favor the evolution of altruism. Here we report 18 cases of adoption, a highly costly behavior, of orphaned youngsters by group members in Taï forest chimpanzees (The Tai National Park covers an area of 454.000ha, it is the last and the biggest rain forest area of West Africa). Half of the adoptions were done by males and remarkably only one of these proved to be the father. Such adoptions by adults can last for years and thus imply extensive care towards the orphans. These observations reveal that, under the appropriate socio-ecologic conditions, chimpanzees do care for the welfare of other unrelated group members and that altruism is more extensive in wild populations than was suggested by captive studies.

Artilce available here (PDF) "Altruism in Forest Chimpanzees: The Case of Adoption," Christophe Boesch, Camille Bolé, Nadin Eckhardt, Hedwige Boesch, PLoS ONE 5(1):: e8901 January 27, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010

Social Networks and Social Media and Social Networking

In recent years, social network research has advanced significantly influenced by the development of new tools for network analysis and their application to online social Web sites, email logs, phone logs and instant messaging systems. The Web is increasingly a social medium that where we can study interaction, sharing of experiences and knowledge, group activities, community formation and evolution.

From a recent call for book chapters, here are thirty things people are studying these days in the realm of networks and the internet.  These topics are the kinds that get social scientists hired by Google and Microsoft and Apple and Yahoo and Mozilla and IDEO and ....
  1. Community discovery and analysis in large scale social networks
  2. Connections between biological and social network formation
  3. Crime data mining and network analysis
  4. Cyber anthropology
  5. The Deep (Dark) Web
  6. Data protection inside communities
  7. Diffusion : social and biological
  8. Dynamics and evolution patterns of social networks
  9. Economic impact of social network discovery
  10. Evolution of social networking
  11. Evolution of communities in organizations
  12. Geography of social networks
  13. Impact of social networks on recommendations systems
  14. Information acquisition and establishment of social relations
  15. Knowledge networks
  16. Influence of culture on the formation of communities
  17. Misbehavior detection in communities
  18. Migration between communities
  19. Multi-agent based social network modeling and analysis
  20. Open source intelligence
  21. Political impact of social networks
  22. Privacy, security and civil liberty issues
  23. Recommendations for product purchase, information acquisition and social relations
  24. Social and cultural anthropology
  25. Social geography
  26. Social network experiments
  27. Social psychology of information diffusion
  28. Temporal analysis on social networks topologies
  29. Visual representation of dynamic social networks
  30. Web communities

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mills UROP: Money for Student Research

The first Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) application deadline for this semester is on 2/19/10 (next Friday).  Any Mills College undergraduate student who are in need of funding for their research projects are eligible for these award (up to $500 each).  Please encourage your students to apply! There will be one more application deadline this semester (4/2/10). For more information about these awards , please visit

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Do Newspaper Stories Diffuse on the Net?

Speaking of the sociology of the internet...

In "Findings" in yesterday's Science Times John Tierney writes about a University of Pennsylvania study of what newspaper articles people most commonly forward to others. It turns out that science, surprise, and emotional content are big predictors of forwarding. The article, headlined "Will You Be E-Mailing This Column? It’s Awesome" describes a big content analysis study of all the articles people email friends from the New York Times online site. It helps uncover what story characteristics motivate people to share information forward. It grabbed my attention (warning: author horn tooting coming) because it connects with my own work on notification and with a story about my work that Tierney published a few years ago.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

PSA in Oakland : You Can Get in Free!

We just received the following email asking for student volunteers for the Pacific Sociological Association Meetings to be held in Oakland in April. This is a good deal. Contact Tina Burdsall ( if you are interested
Dr. Hunter, Dr. Ryan and Dr. Williams,

As you may be aware, the Pacific Sociological Association will be holding its annual conference in Oakland from April 8th - 11th (for more information on the PSA and the upcoming conference please see

I am the Student Affairs co-chair and the conference volunteer coordinator for the PSA and I am currently looking for some students who would like to volunteer for a three hour shift at the registration table in exchange for their registration fees and the 2010 membership fee. If you know of any students who would benefit from attending the conference, please pass my information on to them with encouragement to contact me very soon, as I am hoping to fill the remaining spots within the next couple of weeks.

Thank you!
Tina Burdsall []

Sociology of the Internet : Growth Field

I've spoken to a number of students recently about the growing field of internet studies (and, specifically, the sociology of the internet). Top universities are offering fellowships to study internet culture and both private and public employers are hungry for people who can combine social science with internet and technology topics. Here are a few links to some top flight starting points for finding out more about this exciting new field.
The Oxford Internet Institute is a top center for social studies of the internet. Among other things, they offer a doctoral degree (dphil) in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences. It was founded as a department of the University of Oxford in 2001, as an academic centre for the study of the societal implications of the Internet. The current home in a building owned by Balliol College was formally opened in July 2003.

The Association of Internet Researchers is the top international association for students and scholars in any discipline in the field of of Internet studies. They sponsor journals, conferences and an email list that's open to interested students and researchers.

The Berkman Center at Harvard was founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development. We represent a network of faculty, students, fellows, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and virtual architects working to identify and engage with the challenges and opportunities of cyberspace.

Wikipedia has a decent starter article on "Sociology of the Internet."  It notes five subareas of the field:
  1. inequality (the issues of digital divide)
  2. community and social capital (the issues of time displacement)
  3. political participation (the issues of public sphere, deliberative democracy and civil society)
  4. organizations and other economic institutions
  5. cultural participation and cultural diversity

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rule on Surveillance : UCB SOC COLLOQUIUM TODAY


University of California, Berkeley

Monday, 8 February 2010, 2-3:30 p.m.
Blumer Room, 402 Barrows Hall

Nearly everyone notices--often with alarm--how easily information about one’s self can now be created, massaged, stored, analyzed, and shared among organizations. It’s not only that personal data circulate, often without our knowledge or authorization. They also come to serve purposes never imagined when they were created—shaping life-chances ranging from access to credit to scrutiny by anti-terrorist agencies. Over the last forty years, struggles regarding access and use of personal data have emerged to constitute a new public issue for legislation and policy.

During this period virtually all the world’s liberal democracies have adopted some form of privacy code, ostensibly directed at defending this endangered value. But a more analytical—that is, sociological—look at the forces and processes underlying these developments suggests that this public response may not be equal to the forces driving institutional demands for personal information. I will seek to explain why meaningful “privacy protection” has proven such an intractable issue, and how effective responses to this so-called “social problem” are feasible, but excruciating. En route, I will offer a few observations about the role of sociologists and sociological analysis in addressing highly-charged public issues.

James Rule is Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Tyranny of the Minority? Sex Ratios on College Campuses

Although it never quite lands on it explicitly, an article in today's Sunday Styles section of the NYT, "The New Math on Campus" by ALEX WILLIAMS is all about the social effects of proportions. The article looks at the effect of skewed sex ratios on American college campuses on heterosexual dating; at issue is what happens when 60+ percent of the student body is female.

The ideas in the article are reminiscent of theories about the effects of number and proportions in Simmel, Blau, and Kanter. Interesting observations on how proportions interact with culture (and maybe gender differences) to give the minority men excess power in the dating scene. Might make an interesting paper to compare the kinds of power women had when they were the minority to the kinds that men have in that position.

Also mentioned, though only in passing, is recent legal investigation of colleges that might be discriminating against women by adjusting admissions standards to recruit more men. See also a column in Inside Higher Ed here, and a piece from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Article is also interesting for what's not included. What do you think?

Keep International Options on the Grad School Radar Screen

FOR EXAMPLE (though this one requires MA)
The Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (BIGSSS) invites applications to its Ph.D. and postdoctoral programs. BIGSSS is an inter-university institute of the University of Bremen and Jacobs University and is funded by the German Excellence Initiative. The program provides close supervision of dissertation work within a demand-tailored education and research framework. BIGSSS is part of an international network of highly acknowledged graduate programs. It supports its doctoral and postdoctoral fellows in achieving early scientific independence and provides funds for the conduct, presentation, and publishing of their research. The language of instruction is English.

Successful applicants for the Ph.D. and Postdoctoral Fellowships will pursue a topic in one or more of BIGSSS' five Thematic Fields:
- Global Integration
- Integration and Diversity in the New Europe
- Social Integration and the Welfare State
- Attitude Formation, Value Change, and Intercultural Communication
- Life-Course and Lifespan Dynamics.

20 Ph.D. Stipends/Fellowships
BIGSSS seeks candidates with strong academic abilities and a Master's degree (or equivalent) in political science, sociology, or psychology. Applicants with a degree in law, economics, or other social science disciplines are also welcome. We offer Ph.D. stipends of €1250/month for 36 months, contingent on successful completion of each year.

More information as well as lists of required application materials can be found at For additional inquiries, please check the online FAQ and feel free to contact our admissions officer at

Ph.D. fellowships will start September 1, 2010, Postdoctoral fellows may plan their stays to begin later. Non-German students are strongly encouraged to apply. BIGSSS strives to increase the share of women in the university and hence also strongly encourages women to apply. Applicants with disabilities who are equally qualified will be favored. Applications must be submitted online under "Admissions" at until March 15, 2010.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

WebCast: Queer Youth, Rural US and the Internet

Beyond online/offline: Information access, public spaces, and the boundaries of visibility for queer youth in the rural US
Mary L. Gray, Indiana University

Tuesday, February 9, 12:30 pm
Berkman Center
This event will be webcast live at 12:30 pm ET and archived on our site shortly after.

Drawing on her experiences working for 2 years in rural parts of Kentucky and in small towns along its borders, Mary will map out how lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and questioning (LGBTQ) youth and their allies make use of social media and local resources to combat the marginalization they contend with in their own communities as well as the erasure they face in popular representations of gay and lesbian life and the agendas of national gay and lesbian advocacy groups. Against a backdrop of an increasingly impoverished and privatized rural America LGBTQ youth and their allies visibly—and often vibrantly—work the boundaries of the public and media spaces available to them. This talk will explore how youth suture together high schools, public libraries, town hall meetings, churches, and the web to construct spaces that fashion their emerging queer identities. Their triumphs and travails defy clear distinctions often drawn between online and offline or rural and urban experiences of identity, fundamentally redefining our understanding of the term 'queer visibility’ and the political stakes of information access out in the country.

Mary L. Gray is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research looks at how everyday uses of media shape people's understandings and expressions of their social identities. She is the author of In Your Face: Stories from the Lives of Queer Youth (1999). Her most recent book, Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America (NYU Press) examines how young people in rural parts of the United States fashion queer senses of gender and sexual identity and the role that media--particularly the internet--play in their lives and political work.


Summer Internship Program 2010 AWESOME OPPORTUNITY!

DJR: We really should send someone to this THIS SUMMER!

For 10 weeks each summer The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University swings opens the doors of its big yellow house to welcome a group of talented, curious, and energetic full-time interns who are passionate about the promise of the Internet and issues related to media and journalism, civic engagement, policy, identity and privacy, education, technology, the developing world, law, and more. The interns team up with Berkman projects like Herdict, Cooperation, Digital Natives, Law Lab, Internet & Democracy, or the OpenNet Initiative, where they have an opportunity for deep and substantive involvement in project operation. Performing topic-based research; drafting and editing blog posts, papers and other written outputs; conducting outreach, developing partnerships, and maintaining relationships; exploring project and research design; and undertaking academic responsibilities of all kinds both independently and collaboratively are part of the Berkman summer intern experience. Specific tasks and experiences vary depending on interns' skills and project needs.

In addition to contributing to project based work, summer interns participate in special events and lectures with Berkman faculty and fellows, engage each other through community experiences like the weekly interns discussion hours, and each year innovate for themselves new opportunities for fun and learning, like organizing debates, producing podcasts and other media outputs, and hosting book clubs and cookoffs (!).

The word "awesome" has been thrown around to describe our internships, but don't take our word for it. Zack McCune, a summer intern from 2008, had this to say: "it has been an enchanting summer working at the berkman center for internet & society. everyday, i get to hang out with some of the most brilliant people on the planet. we talk, we write (emails), we blog, we laugh, we play rock band. and when things need to get done, we stay late hyped on free coffee and leftover food. it is a distinct honor to be considered a peer among such excellent people. and i am not just talking about the fellows, staff, and faculty, though they are all outstanding. no, i mean my peers as in my fellow interns, who are almost definitely the ripening next generation of changemakers."


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Problematic Survey, But Still a "Should See"

A post in The Daily Kos (The 2010 Comprehensive Daily Kos/Research 2000 Poll of Self-Identified Republicans) paints a stark picture of political landscape (and, one should note, one that pre-promotes Kos' forthcoming book). It suffers from absence of detailed info about how the survey was conducted (though some is given here) and really basic problem of sampling within rather than across groups, but worth looking at. There's a link to demographic crosstabs but we don't get much of a sense of the distribution across the spectrum of opinion -- that is, it looks like most of the questions were simply yes or no. In an opinion poll like this, even a slight yes (or, for that matter, a slight "not no") would put you in the yes column. Still...

Nobody Escapes the ORGANIZATIONAL!

Quote of the day: "Use the right tools to introduce change. Don't think that for some reason you will be exempted from the rules of organizational nature." From Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.

Haven't finished the book yet (in fact, have only just started attacking it), but it seems to resonate with some ideas my friend Dan Chambliss and I put forward in an unpublished paper called "Big Problems Demand Small Solutions." The underlying argument in our paper is stuff happens in organizations. Organizations are not like people. Use what we know about organization to figure out how to change the world. Not rocket science, but frequently displaced by our tendency to individualize and psychologize. Anyway, here's the abstract:
Excellence in education can be approached or avoid-ed in a wide variety of systemic contexts. Big, system level solutions tend to keep people busy, divert attention and placate political constituents rather than amounting to real change that improves educational quality. Small, doable solutions that are created, endorsed, and carried out all by the same people are an effective alternative. By avoiding frontal attacks on the system, and concentrating instead on small, potentially very visible areas where noticeable improve-ments can be made with minimal resources, reformers can make real headway rather than merely getting credit for having tried.  We suggest that the use of small solutions by individuals throughout our col-leges, from student to college president, is the way to actually achieve excellence in American higher education.
We were inspired by an important article by Karl Weick called "Small Wins:Redefining the Scale of Social Problems."  Weick is perhaps best known for the important concepts of "loose coupling" and "sense making" (see the must-read article "The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster" (Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Dec., 1993), pp. 628-652) JSTOR oncampus / offcampus].