Mentions of Race, Gender, and Inequality in Academic Articles

Philip Cohen published an interesting post using Web of Science data to show how academics talk about inequality in the 1980s to present. Phil looks at variations of the phrase “race, class, gender”, and the rise of “social inequality” over “social stratification”, in the titles of journal articles. 

Here’s another slice at the topic. I used JStor’s Data for Research database (all articles in their collection) and restricted the sample to research articles published between 1980-2012.** Then I looked at the percentage of articles that mention inequality** that also mention: race, sex/gender, or both race and sex/gender.*** Here’s the resulting graph:

Percentage of research articles that mention inequality in JStor that also mention race, sex or gender, or both.

Percentage of research articles that mention social, economic, income, or wealth inequality in JStor that also mention race, sex or gender, or both.

Obviously, mentioning inequality, race, or gender anywhere in the text of an article is a much lower threshold than mentioning things in the title. So, this slice at the corpus of academic research is more like a lower bound on interest in intersectional inequalities, while Phil is looking at something like an upper bound (articles that go so far as to include those terms in their title). Also, here I am looking only at those articles that mention inequality of some sort to see which kinds of inequality are mentioned (“inequality articles” for short). Given that, we can see two clear trends: inequality articles are much more likely to mention both race and sex/gender in recent years (doubling from around 17% in 1980 to around 34% in 2012). In the meantime, discussion of race and gender in general have also increased significantly (from 33% of inequality articles mentioning sex or gender in 1980 to 59% in 2012; and 29% to 45% for race).

With this data, we can also compare the observed co-occurrence of race and sex/gender to the rate we’d expect if mentions were independent. That is, given that 33% of inequality articles mentioned race and 29% mentioned in sex/gender in 1980, we’d expect about 9% to mention both simply by chance. The actual rate is 17%. For 2012, the “expected” rate based on independence is about 27% compared to an observed rate of 34%. So, the overall increase in articles mentioning race and sex/gender is pretty consistent with the increase in mentions of the two terms separately.

What do you all think?

EDIT: Inspired by Philip’s comment, I made another simple chart looking at research articles in JStor. Here I look at the percentage of article that use both the terms “racial inequality” and “gender inequality” as a percentage of articles using either term. Here’s a plot of a 2-year moving average of those results.

JStor research articles mentioning "racial inequality" and "gender inequaliy" as a percentage of articles mentioning either, 1990-2012.

JStor research articles mentioning “racial inequality” and “gender inequaliy” as a percentage of articles mentioning either, 1990-2012.

I restricted the time period here to 1990-2012 (1989-2012 considering the 2 year average) because of sharp uptick in gender as a term in the 1980s and the relatively small N of any mentions of gender inequality from the 1980s (i.e. just 2 articles in 1980). Mostly, not a lot of trend here. Are these the right terms though?

* JStor’s database excludes many publications for a couple years after publication, so the sample size drops considerably for the last two years.
** Specifically, any of the phrases “social inequality”, “economic inequality”, “wealth inequality”, or “income inequality.”
*** In the early part of the 1980s, “gender” was still much less commonly used than sex (cf. nGrams). I use “sex/gender” to refer to articles containing at least one of sex or gender.

Save ASA’s Archival Records!

As some readers of this blog may know, there’s been a debate over the past few years about what to do with a large collection of archival material held by the American Sociological Association. Specifically at issue are the editorial records of the ASA journals (ASR, Sociological Theory, etc.) from 1991-2009. The ASA council no longer feels that it is worth the expense to warehouse the records in physical form, and is also unwilling to put up the required cash – $120,000 – to digitize the lot. Instead, in an act of uncharacteristic thriftiness, ASA has punted the problem to its members. If we can raise the money by next year, they will happily digitize the records. If not, whatever we can’t pay to digitize will be destroyed.

Led by Alan Sica and Charles Camic, a group of sociologists have organized to try to fundraise to Save Our Archival Records. For more information on the campaign, go to their website. You can donate directly to the effort there, or through ASA’s page. Thanks!

For “Central Conflation”; Against the Structure/Agency Dichotomy

The newest issue of Sociological Theory was just released. Several of the articles look fascinating, but with my spare time between reading a 400p congressional hearing and (failing) to read an 1100p congressional hearing, I had time to look at just one: For “Central Conflation”: A Critique of Archerian Dualism by Tero Piiroinen. I admit, I was a bit skeptical at first: like many others in the sociology blogosphere, I’m a bit sick of the endless debates over critical realism. That said, having invested the time to make sense of critical realism enough to follow said debates, I was interested to hear what this new critique had to say about the topic. I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s the paper’s abstract:

Taking a side in the debate over ontological emergentism in social theory, this article defends an outlook that Margaret S. Archer has dubbed “central conflation”: an antidualistic position appreciating the interdependency of agency and structure, individuals and society. This has been a popular outlook in recent years, advocated broadly by such theorists as Pierre Bourdieu, Randall Collins, and Anthony Giddens. However, antidualism has been challenged by those who believe the key to success in social science lies in level-ontological emergentism. Archer’s own morphogenetic theory is an explicitly dualist version of that approach. I answer Archer’s arguments for emergentism, in so doing clearing a path for the even fuller acceptance of antidualism by theorists.

In short, the paper argues against the implicit or explicit dualism of much of sociology, expressed most fully in Archer’s account of agency and structure. Archer names this antidualism position the “central conflation”, and Piiroinen embraces that label and wants to turn it – and antidualism – into badges of pride. To do so, Piiroinen draws on a diverse set of authors – Giddens and Bourdieu, but also Elias, Latour and especially Dewey – to argue that individuals are inherently social, and thus to deny the problem of the emergence of society from individuals. Here’s a Dewey quote to that effect from the paper (p. 86):

Then “society” becomes an unreal abstraction and “the individual” an equally unreal one. . . . [And] there develops the unreal question of how individuals come to be united in societies and groups: the individual and the social are now opposed to each other, and there is the problem of “reconciling” them.

Piiroinen reiterates a basic insight, expressed nicely in Callon and Latour’s (1981) agenda-setting piece on “Unscrewing the Big Leviathan”, that the micro- and macro- are not the same as the agent and the structure, or really all that different except as analytical tools and questions to be investigated (p. 91):

As antidualists deny any metaphysical hiatus between micro-scale agency and macro-scale structures, they encourage us to effortlessly zoom back and forth between the micro and the macro: to zoom as close to small-scale encounters and as far back to the consistencies of large-scale dynamics as needed to understand the spatiotemporal chunks of the social practices of people-in-relations that are most relevant for the case at hand, in all their relevant details and big-picture connections. And, arguably, antidualists manage this precisely because they avoid the self-appointed problematic of the linkage between individuals’ inter- actions and sociocultural systems.

I like it!

Beyond tickling my theoretical fancy, the paper has some lovely bits of writing and great short examples when it moves to critiquing Archer’s understanding of culture from this antidualist perspective (great examples, that is, if you’re a massive nerd who loves seeing Comic Con and cosplay mentioned in one of the discipline’s top journals) (p. 93):

Consider someone cheerfully identifying himself as a “nerd” or “geek” and dressing up as a “stormtrooper” (from the Star Wars movies) to participate in the Comic-Con event in San Diego, socializing with countless likeminded people who share with him similar identities and may also dress up as stormtroopers, or as “Princess Leia,” “Spider-Man,” “Dracula,” a “barbarian warlord,” “little grey man”* or “zombie,” or any of thousands of iconic pop culture characters or archetypes instantly recognizable and meaningful to hundreds of millions of people around the world. Notice that logic and reasoning play no important role in that regard. There are true and false propositions that can be formed about pop cultural items, and there are even more vaguely explicable “intelligibilia,” as Archer (1995:180) calls them, “item[s] that have the dispositional capacity of being understood by someone,” but understandability, to say nothing of logical consistency, is not a key notion in sociology of culture, it is not why cultural phenomena are sociologically important. Rather, they are important because there are people who care—rather passionately—about those items and interact with others who also care about them. It is a social affair.

Following this paper, I think my new favorite critique is going to be, “yeah, but can your theory explain cosplay?”

My only real criticism of the paper is that it spends so much time beating up on critical realism and Archer in particular, and thus spends less time than it could developing the implications for research that come from adopting a conflationist antidualist perspective. Hopefully, in future work, Piiroinen and others will pick up from this place to answer that question, and in so doing, perhaps help attract more interest from empirically-minded scholars who sometimes slip into the dualist framing but couldn’t be bothered to read one more piece for or against critical realism.

* I feel like I might lose nerd cred for saying this, but is little grey men the Finnish term for little green men? Or is it some cool new nerd reference that I just don’t get?

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

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 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.

Undoing Publication Bias with “P-Curves”, Minimum Wage Edition

Following the blog rabbit hole today, I came across an interesting statistics and data analysis blog I hadn’t seen before: Simply Statistics. The blog authors are biostatisticians at Johns Hopkins, and at least one is creating a 9-month MOOC sequence on data analysis that looks quite interesting. So, far my favorite post (and the one that led me to the blog) is a counter-rant to all the recent p-value bashing (e.g. this Nature piece): On the scalability of statistical procedures: why the p-value bashers just don’t get it. The post’s argument boils down to something like, “P-values, there is no alternative!” But check out the full post for the interesting defense of the oft-maligned and even more oft-misinterpreted mainstay of conventional quantitative research.

Apart from that post, I also enjoyed a link to a recent working paper, which is what I wanted to highlight here. Even though the blog authors defend p-valus as a simple way of controlling researcher degrees of freedom, they also seem to be part of a growing group of statisticians interested in finding ways of correcting for the “statistical significance filter“, as Andrew Gelman puts it. The method presented in “P-Curve Fixes Publication Bias: Obtaining Unbiased Effect Size Estimates from Published Studies Alone” seems quite intuitive. Basically, the authors show how to simulate a p-curve (distribution of p-values) that best matches the observed p-values in a collection of studies, given the assumption that only significant results are published (but not perfectly accounting for other forms of p-hacking, discussed in the paper). Although the paper is short, it presents payoffs for analysis of two vexing problems, including the relationship between unemployment and the minimum wage. Here’s the example reproduced in full:

Our first example involves the well-known economics prediction that increases in minimum wage raise unemployment. In a meta-analysis of the empirical evidence, Card and Krueger (1995) noted that effect size estimates are smaller in studies with larger samples and comment that “the studies in the literature have been affected by specification-searching and publication biases, induced by editors’ and authors’ tendencies to look for negative and statistically significant estimates of the employment effect of the minimum wage […] researchers may have to temper the inferences they draw […]” (p.242).

From Figure 1 in their article (Card & Krueger, 1995) we obtained the t-statistic and degrees of freedom from the fifteen studies they reviewed. As we show in our Figure 4, averaging the reported effect size estimates one obtains a notable effect size, but correcting for selective reporting via p-curve brings it to zero. This does not mean increases in minimum wage would never increase unemployment, it does mean that the evidence Card and Kruger collected suggesting it had done so in the past, can be fully accounted by selective reporting. P-curve provides a quantitative calibration to Card and Krueger’s qualitative concerns. The at the time controversial claim that the existing evidence pointed to an effect size smaller than believed was not controversial enough; the evidence actually pointed to a nonexisting effect.

So, Nelson et al. provide an intuitive way of formalizing Card & Krueger’s assertion that publication bias could account for some of the findings of a negative relationship between unemployment and minimum wage increases – and even further, that publication bias could actually reduce the best estimate of the effect to zero (which seems consistent with much, thought certainly not all, of the recent literature).

These methods seem really neat, but I’m not entirely sure what problems in sociology we could generalize them to. In the subfields I follow most closely, most research is either not quantitative, or is based on somewhat idiosyncratic data and hence it’s hard to imagine a bunch of studies with sufficiently comparable dependent variables and hypotheses from which one could draw a distribution. I’d bet demographers would have more luck. But in economic sociology, published replication seems sufficiently rare to prevent us from making much headway on the the issue of publication bias using quantitative techniques like this – which perhaps points to a very different set of problems.

JTS Deadline Rapidly Approaching!

A quick reminder – the deadline for submission to the Junior Theorists Symposium is this Saturday! We look forward to your submissions. Details are here.


Fiscal Sociology Workshop at SSHA

A few years ago, I participated in a wonderful workshop on the sociology of taxes and tax policy held the day before the Social Science History Association annual meeting. The workshop organizers are at again and have just released a call for papers / applicants. If you’re a social scientist or historian interested in the history of taxes, I highly recommend applying. Details below.

6th Annual Workshop on Comparative Historical Approaches to Fiscal Sociology

In recent years, scholars from a variety of disciplines have embarked on an innovative wave of multidisciplinary research on the social and historical sources and consequences of taxation. We invite interested graduate students from history, law, and the social sciences to participate in a one-day workshop on this “new fiscal sociology.” In addition to brief lectures introducing students to the basics of taxation and the comparative history of taxation, the workshop will consist of discussion of classic and contemporary texts.

The workshop will be held on Wednesday, November 5th, in Toronto, Ontario, in conjunction with the annual meetings of the Social Science History Association (SSHA). Interested students will also have a chance to present their own work on Thursday, November 6th, as part of the SSHA conference.

Space is limited. Small housing and travel stipends will be provided for a limited number of applicants. Applicants should submit a CV and a paragraph explaining their interest in this workshop, and (if applicable) a draft of a research paper that they would be willing to present at the SSHA. Preference will be given to students who also submit conference papers, but we encourage applications from all students interested in the workshop, including those at early stages of their graduate careers.

Please submit materials via e-mail to the following three faculty conveners no later than February 21, 2014.

Monica Prasad, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University
Ajay Mehrotra, Maurer School of Law, Indiana University – Bloomington
Isaac Martin, Department of Sociology, University of California – San Diego

Utah: No Same-Sex Marriages Because… Diversity?

The Colbert Report has an occasional segment called “The Craziest F#?ing Thing I’ve Ever Heard.” On the segment, Colbert shows a clip or explains an argument that produced the titular reaction, i.e. the verbal exclamation “That’s the craziest f#?ing thing I’ve ever heard.” (Example here, warning: pretty crazy.) Today, I had a similar reaction upon reading this brief Inside Higher Ed piece, “Did Higher Ed Affirmative Action Ruling Bolster Gay Marriage Bans?”

A bit of background. Affirmative action in higher ed has been hotly debated in the courts for decades. The first major Supreme Court ruling came in 1978, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The Bakke ruling held that quotas for racial minority students were unconstitutional. But the ruling was unusually split, with a total of six opinions being issued. Although a majority agreed that quotas were unconstitutional, a different majority agreed that race-based affirmative action was permissible in some form or another. The most important opinion ended up being a sole-authored piece by the swing justice, Powell. In that opinion, Powell introduced the idea “diversity” might be a compelling state interest, and race might be considered a “plus factor” with such a justification. Diversity was not especially defined in this ruling, nor were clear tests laid out for what kinds of racial preference were justifiable.

Higher-ed administrators turned Powell’s opinion into actual admissions practices, creating various programs that took race into account in admissions and drawing on diversity to justify those programs (Berrey 2011). In 2003, the Supreme Court considered two cases about affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan (for admission to the law school and the main undergraduate program). During the case, the University argued that educational diversity (having a wide variety of viewpoints in the classroom) was essential to its educational mission and benefitted all students. In the end, the Supreme Court upheld the idea of diversity as a compelling state interest, although limiting its use by striking down the particular program employed by the undergraduate college.* A follow-up ruling last year, Fisher v. University of Texas, further limited the kinds of race-based affirmative action programs that could be justified through the diversity argument by increasing the burden required of universities to justify affirmative action programs.

So, that’s the brief history of “diversity” arguments at the Supreme Court. Now it’s 2014, and the state of Utah is in the midst of litigation about its same-sex marriage ban. In December, a Federal District Court ruled that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, drawing on the recent decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. What’s this got to do with diversity, you might ask? Apparently, something, according to Utah’s brief to the Supreme Court:

Society has long recognized that diversity in education brings a host of benefits to students. See, e.g., Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003). If that is true in education, why not in parenting? At a minimum, the state and its people could rationally conclude that gender diversity — i.e. complementarity — in parenting is likely to be beneficial to children. And the state and its people could therefore rationally decide to encourage such diversity by limiting the coveted status of “marriage” to man-woman unions.

That’s right folks. According to Utah, we should ban same-sex marriages to encourage diversity.

And that’s the craziest f#?ing thing I’ve ever heard.

* We (Ellen Berrey, Fiona Rose Greenland, and I) tell a detailed version of this story, focused on the evolution of the points system used by the undergraduate college at the University of Michigan, here.

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!

“Middlebrow Megachurch Infotainment”

Benjamin Bratton is a associate professor of visual arts at UCSD and a big critic of TED. He took his criticisms to TED itself (well, TEDx San Diego) in the form of a talk entirely about the pathologies of TED. So meta, it hurts. But actually, I thought it was right on point, nicely encapsulating the problems with the TED format while simultaneously hitting on a lot of key themes from STS (about the need to think about social systems and politics in order to make a technology succeed, for example).

One of my favorite bits is Bratton’s discussion of “placebo science and medicine” vs. “placebo politics.” Bratton argues that TED speakers are great at debunking, or at least avoiding, bad science and medicine. But their technoutopianism leads them to offer versions of politics that are just as plagued by wishful thinking as “placebo medicine.” Hence, “You should be as skeptical of placebo politics as you are of placebo medicine.”

Bratton ends with a nice critique of a dominant metaphor of innovation, and also a call for more radicalism in our search for solutions:

“Our problems are not puzzles to be solved. This metaphor implies that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It’s not true. Innovation defined as puzzles, as rearranging pieces and adding more processing power, is not some big idea that’s going to disrupt the broken status quo, that precisely is the broken status quo.”

Recommended. (Via BoingBoing.)