If You’re Going to San Francisco…

Dear Readers!

First, a bit of housekeeping. I’ve been officially recruited onto the Scatterplot blogging team. So, for the time being, substantive posts about sociology and related topics will likely be posted over there (e.g. this piece on clarifying the debate over replication in the social sciences). I’ll save this blog for more personal updates and shameless self-promotion.

Speaking of which… I’m very excited for this year’s ASA in SF! If you want to hear what I’m up to or say hi, you can find me at two fantastic events. The first is the Junior Theorists Symposium, which I’m co-organizing with Jordanna Matlon. We’ll be posting the paper abstracts and further details next week, and I’ll make sure to link them here. Please RSVP if you’d like to attend! JTS will be held at the University of California, Berkeley on Friday, August 15 (the day before ASA proper begins in earnest). Old announcement with details here.

The second is a panel on “Credit and Inequality: Interdisciplinary Perspectives.” Greta Krippner and I will be presenting our first paper from a new collaboration on the politics of pricing in insurance and credit. This paper looks at the fascinating legal and legislative contention in the 1980s over the use of gender in risk-based pricing of life and auto insurance.* The panel is Sunday, 2:30-4:10pm.

Hope to see you all there!

* Ok, I admit, few people would normally use “fascinating” to describe any aspect of “insurance pricing.” But believe me, it’s a really rich space to see the workings out of various logics of fairness, discrimination, and the meaning of “individual treatment” in the context of statistical models of risk – questions that rate to be ever more relevant as more and more aspects of our lives are connected to predictive algorithms.


Two Problems with the Facebook Study Debate

I just wrote a my first post on Scatterplot, about the debate over the recent Facebook emotions study. For at least a little bit, I’ll likely be blogging over there. Since I imagine my readership overlaps a fair bit, I will likely not cross-post most of the content, unless I want to keep a record over here for my own purposes. Either way, if you’re interested in the Facebook debate, please check out my post and let me know what you think!

Junior Theorists Symposium – August 15, 2014 – Save the Date!

I’m happy to announce the program for the 2014 Junior Theorists Symposium! JTS will be held this year on Friday, August 15 (the day before ASA), at the University of California (Berkeley). Details about the program follow. If you have any questions, please contact Jordanna Matlon and myself at juniortheorists@gmail.com.

Junior Theorists Symposium
University of California (Berkeley)
August 15, 2014

8:30 – 9:00 | Coffee and Bagels

9:00 – 10:50 | Culture, Action, and Difference
* Ellis Monk (University of Chicago) – “Bodily Capital: Capturing the Role of the Body in Social Inequality”
* Daniel Sherwood (The New School) – “Acting Through the Margin of Freedom: Bourdieu as a Social Movement Theorist”
* Brandon Vaidyanathan (Rice University) – “A Cultural Theory of Differentiation”
Discussant: George Steinmetz (University of Michigan – Ann Arbor)

10:50 – 11:00 | Coffee

11:00 – 12:50 | Measures of Worth
* Alison Gerber (Yale University) – “Tradition, Rationalization and Worth: A Theory of Decommensuration”
* Michael Halpin (University of Wisconsin – Madison) – “Science and Sociodicy: Neuroscientific Explanations of Social Suffering”
* Katherine Kenny (University of California – San Diego) – “The Biopolitics of Global Health: Life and Death and Neoliberal Time”
Discussant: Marion Fourcade (University of California – Berkeley)

12:50 – 2:00 | Lunch

2:00 – 3:50 | Place and Perspective
* Hillary Angelo (New York University) – “From the City as a Lens to Urbanization as a Way of Seeing: Refocusing Social Categories for an Urban Planet”
* Jennifer Carlson (University of Toronto) – “Citizen-Protectors: Guns, Masculinity and Citizenship in an Age of Decline”
* Victoria Reyes (Princeton University) – “Global Borderlands: A Case Study of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines”
Discussant: Saskia Sassen (Columbia University)

4:00 – 5:30 | After-panel: The Boundaries of Theory
* Stefan Bargheer (University of California – Los Angeles)
* Claudio Benzecry (University of Connecticut)
* Margaret Frye (Harvard University)
* Julian Go (Boston University)
* Rhacel Parreñas (University of Southern California)

5:30 – ? | Theory in the Wild: Beer, wine, and good conversation (off-site)

The Junior Theorists Symposium is an open event. In order to facilitate planning, please RSVP by sending an email to juniortheorists@gmail.com with the subject line “JTS RSVP.” We suggest an on-site donation of $20 per faculty member and $10 per graduate student to cover event costs. The exact locations will be announced later this summer.

Triangular Research

This Thursday, I’m headed to the research triangle area for my last dissertation archival trip. I’m also giving a talk this Friday at Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy (details here). The talk is based on a paper co-authored with Elizabeth Popp Berman on how economists, economic ideas, and economic devices influence policymaking (forthcoming in Socioeconomic Review). The paper is very much aimed at sociologists and political scientists, so it will be interesting to see what the historians of economics make of it.

In addition to being excited about the talk, and about finishing off archival work, I’m delighted to be able to time travel several months into the future and arrive at Summer. If you have any recommendations for good food spots in the Raleigh/Durham area, or fun things to do that might not pop up on a casual Google search, leave your suggestions in the comments. And if you want to say hi or grab a coffee, I’ll be in the area through Friday the 18th. Thanks!


This week I’m headed to the archives at Columbia University. I was really excited to leave snowy Michigan, only to learn that it’s going to snow here tomorrow. Alas.

Also, if you have any recommendations for good food spots – especially breakfast and lunch places or coffee shops – near Columbia, leave your suggestion in the comments. Thanks!

On Informative File Names

Warning: This post is about professional etiquette and/or venting about a pet peeve.

Suppose you are submitting a paper to a conference, paper award, or the like – a judged competition which usually receives a relatively large number of submissions – by means of an email attachment.* What should you name the attached document? There are some real issues here. There is no standard format, and there has been some historical variation in which characters were acceptable (spaces used to be annoying, now are not, etc.). But I think we can all agree that a reasonable answer should include, at a minimum, the author’s last name, some version of the paper title, and perhaps some indication of the competition to which it is being submitted, e.g. “Hirschman_Totally Awesome Paper Title_Section Award.” My preferred variant is actually “Hirschman (2014) Totally Awesome Paper Title (Section Award Version)” as it’s most useful for me, but I don’t have a strong claim to it being the perfect solution.

What doesn’t, and can’t, make sense is a submission simply titled “Section Award.pdf.” This can’t make sense because it doesn’t scale. If everyone uses the same filename, the organizers or award committee members will have a directory entirely consisting of “Section Award (n).pdf” for n from 1 to N, and no way of telling which was which without using some kind of internal search feature. So what possible logic leads people to consistently title attachments this way? Arguably, the purpose of the submission is the least important piece of information in the filename as it’s the one thing the recipient already knows, and which is shared across all submissions!

Tl;dr: When sending out a paper as an attachment, please use an informative file name.

* The same holds for submissions to, say, department workshops where only one paper is being presented at a time, but in that context proper naming is somewhat less urgent, as receiving only one submission at a time makes it more likely I will rename the file anyway. That said, the more informative your file name, the easier it is for everyone receiving it rename to their liking, and usually such submissions have larger audiences and thus burden more people if you use an uninformative file name as everyone has to rename it.

Reminder: Junior Theorists CFP

The extended submission deadline for the American Sociological Association annual meeting has passed, but the deadline for the Junior Theorists Symposium is still a few weeks away! As a reminder, JTS is a 1-day conference held the day before ASA, featuring the work of not quite ready for primetime theorists*, with commentary provided by theoretical rock stars (this year, Saskia Sassen, George Steinmetz, and Marion Fourcade). The full CFP is here. The deadline for submitting your extended abstract is February 15. We look forward to your submissisons!

*Actually just anyone from ABD to less than 6 six years past receiving their PhD. Hopefully everyone will be ready to present!

Derivatives and Deregulation

Happy New Year! And with that new year, a new paper.

Russ Funk and I have been working on a collaborative project on law and organizations in the context of financial regulation. I’m pleased to be able to post a new working paper for the project.

Derivatives and Deregulation:
Financial Innovation and the Demise Of Glass-Steagall

Abstract: Just as regulation may inhibit innovation, innovation may undermine regulation. Regulators, much like market actors, rely on categorical distinctions to understand and act on the market. Innovations that are ambiguous to regulatory categories but not to market actors present a problem for regulators and an opportunity for innovative firms to evade or upend the existing order. We trace the history of one class of innovative financial derivatives—interest rate and foreign exchange swaps—to show how these instruments under- mined the separation of commercial and investment banking established by the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. Swaps did not fit neatly into existing product categories—futures, securities, loans—and thus evaded regulatory scrutiny for decades. The market success of swaps put commercial and investment banks into direct competition, and in so doing undermined Glass-Steagall. Drawing on this case, we theorize some of the political and market conditions under which regulations may be especially vulnerable to disruption by ambiguous innovations.

The paper is available from SSRN or downloadable directly here. Let us know what you think!

Gone Fishing (And Chips-ing?)

Dear Loyal Readers,

As part of my dissertation research, I’m headed to England tomorrow. I’ll be in the archives at the LSE and King’s College, Cambridge for the next month and a half or so. In the middle, I’ll be presenting some early stage dissertation work at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) in Milan. The paper, on the history of income inequality data and the recent discovery of the “top 1%”, is part of a mini-conference on Economic Culture in the Public Sphere, organized by Nina Bandelj, Lyn Spillman, and Fred Wherry. If you’re going to be at SASE, come by the mini-conference, and drop me a note if you want to meet up for lunch, coffee, or a drink. And if you have ideas for things to do / places to go / food to consume in London, Cambridge, or Milan, leave a comment with your suggestions!

Otherwise, posts rate to be on the thin side for a while longer. If I find anything interesting, I may post a bit from the archives, as I did with this Kuznets post.

Until then, have a wonderful summer!
P.S. Here we see a rare glimpse of the life of an historical sociologist, hard at work prepping for an important research trip.

Sleepy Keynes

Boston! + ESS Talk Promo

Dear Readers,

I’m going to be in the Boston/Cambridge area from March 18 to March 28. I’ll be visiting Harvard University’s archives and presenting a brand new paper at the Eastern Sociological Society Meetings. Leave a comment or send me an email if you’re going to be in the area and want to meet up!

Here’s the abstract and title for the ESS talk, based on a paper co-authored with Isaac Reed:

On the Formation of Social Kinds:
Expanding the Causal Repertoire of Sociological Research

Current understandings of causality in the social sciences suffer from an unnecessarily monolithic definition of “cause.” Building on Reed (2011)*, we offer a new typology of causation. This typology distinguishes forcing causes from forming causes. Forcing causes describe the relations between existing social objects that produce, determine or explain why a process has a certain well-defined outcome rather than others. Forcing causes coincide with existing definitions of causes in the extensive literature on causal inference, and some of the literature on social mechanisms. Forming causes describe how objects and outcomes in the social world are shaped or reshaped, or in extreme cases, brought into being. We argue that some of the literature in historical and cultural sociology has been misidentified as ‘merely’ interpretive or descriptive rather than causal because it deals with forming causes. Additionally, we argue that confusion results when scholars conflate questions about forcing and forming causes. We illustrate these claims with two short examples from very distinct literatures: the historiography of the French revolution and the debates over the performativity of the Black-Scholes-Merton options pricing model. We close with a brief discussion of how adopting this distinction can help initiate a conversation about making rigorous claims about formal causes.

The talk is part of what rates to be an excellent collection of six panels on Comparative Cultural Sociology. Stop by and check it out!

*If you haven’t read Isaac’s book, and you want to learn more about the role of meaning and interpretation in the production of social knowledge, you really should.