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Concluding Our Topic Series on Media Skills for Scholars

As we bring our topic series on media skills to a close, we hope you’ve found these introductions to Twitter, blogging, writing Op-Eds, creating audio and podcasts, measuring your online impact, and conducting online research useful.

We’ve collected them into a eBook here and we encourage you to share it with your colleagues!

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We know that many of you are already active tweeters, bloggers, etc. and we’d love to hear some of your ideas, experiences, tips, etc. Please feel free to tweet @JustPublics365 or leave comments on our blog. If you plan to be at the American Sociological Associate meeting in August, please follow our Twitter handle and join us in live tweeting the conference!

              Happy tweeting/blogging/op-ed writing/podcasting/measuring/researching!

Using Hybrid Methods to Study Digital Media

In this topic series on media skills for scholars, we have focused on using digital media to communicate your research and measure your online impact. But what about researching digital media itself?

Digital scholarship has quickly become a major area of study in the social sciences. Studying such an interactive, dynamic and ever-changing field can be challenging, but fortunately for researchers, there is often a record. As with most social science research, digital research usually falls into either the quantitative or qualitative camp. Endless debates have pitted the two approaches against each other but, as with the great peanut butter – chocolate debate, they can go great together!

Ethnographic content analysis is a hybrid methodology that draws from both of these approaches and is very adaptable to the digital field. Ethnographic content analysis, or ECA for short, was developed by media scholar David Altheide in the late 1980s to study television news coverage of the Iran hostage crisis from 1979-1981. He argued that while conventional quantitative-focused content analysis is useful for revealing patterns and big-picture information, it leaves out room for more the nuanced interpretations that qualitative methods elicit.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 12.12.51 AMTypically, content analysis is a linear, step-wise projection from data collection to analysis to interpretation, while an ethnographic approach is reflexive and circular. Aiming to meet in the middle, ECA is “systematic and analytic, but not rigid” (Altheide 1987). As with conventional content analysis, information is organized by categories and sub-categories, but with an ethnographic approach, other categories are “allowed and expected to emerge throughout the study.” As any qualitative researcher will tell you, the most interesting findings are often the unexpected ones.

For example, in reviewing TV news coverage, Altheide noticed that while the hostages’ families were a part of the story from the beginning, they became more prominent over time. This had to do, in part, with media access. Families were often willing to be extensively interviewed on camera, and a group of families formed a quasi-organization with articulate spokespeople. Had he not been analyzing data qualitatively as well as quantitatively, he likely would have missed these contextual factors that shaped and influenced TV coverage, or there may not have been a place for this interpretation to “fit” in a conventional content analysis.

The digital field offers so much data, both quantitative and qualitative, and ECA is a highly effective approach for handling both of these. For example, I studied personal blogs written by women with Multiple Sclerosis. Gathering quantitative data, such as the number, frequency and length of posts; images and multimedia; and examining blog architecture demonstrated patterns of activity, topical themes, and design choices, and gave me an overall sense of my sample. I then selected a subset of posts to analyze in more depth, paying closer attention to not just what bloggers wrote about but how they wrote about: Was their blog more information-focused or personal? What was the “tone” of their writing (humorous? serious? what did they complain about?)? Did they write about everyday life or significant events?

Looking at the focus of their blogs revealed that the bloggers saw themselves as having different “roles.” For example, some considered themselves as translators of complex medical information for a general audience. They felt a responsibility to make sure the information was reliable and were diligent about citing sources and providing links.

MS Renegade Front

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Looking at the tone of their writing (the how), and not just the content (the what) demonstrated that there were different narratives, some that conformed to social expectations about how a personal with serious illness should act (i.e. putting on a sunny face) and some that challenged these expectations and took an activist stance.

I also reexamined and interpreted images and graphics. Some bloggers posted pictures of themselves, their families, and their pets, and provided ways to contact them, while others were not as forthcoming in these ways, indicating varying levels of comfort with a public identity.

The ECA I conducted was the first phase of a three-part mixed method study, which also included a survey and online discussion forum. The information I gathered helped me craft the subsequent survey and discussion questions and guide the rest of the study. The results served as a foundation to which I returned again and again during data analysis. As I found, ECA is a well-rounded and adaptable research method for the digital field, which can be used both on its own and in tandem with other methods.

Peanut Butter – Chocolate; Chocolate – Peanut Butter. Either way, they work well together.

collette-portraitThis post was written by Collette Sosnowy (@SOsnowyNYC). She has a Ph.D. in psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center and is the Project Manger for JustPublics@365. She likes both chocolate AND peanut butter.

From Scholarly Research to Crafting an Op-Ed: A How To for Academics

When your area of scholarly expertise becomes part of a news cycle, you have a chance to jump in and add your perspective to the conversation. You may be burning to refute an argument or clarify a popular opinion or, more ambitiously, change the direction of a longer conversation. However, it can be hard to know how to do just that. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.

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An excellent way to bring your work and perspective to a broader audience and inform public opinion is to write Op-Eds for mainstream publications. In this post, I’ll give some basic guidelines for writing Op-Eds that effectively present your academic work and link it to the topic of the moment (or longer!).

The challenge for many academics is striking a balance between the complexities of a subject and making it accessible to an intelligent public. Academics are fluent in the language of expertise. We often define this in terms of our discipline, sub-discipline, and methodological practices. But even smart, informed readers cannot be expected to know disciplinary ins-and-outs, (and they may not care).

For example, labor experts who focus on intersectionality may have significance among our tribe, but that can mean very little to readers of the Washington Post. However, if that labor expert can link her specific niche to broader issues of public concern, it will have far more meaning to the average reader. For example, her scholarship can inform issues about gender wage gaps, criminal background checks on hiring practices, and the decline of the black middle class. Those are all issues generally understood and hotly debated in the media.

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Whichever media outlet you pitch a piece to or its subject matter, an Op-Ed should: 1) establish your credibility 2) argue for a compelling point-of-view and 3) consider counter-perspectives.

It should also follow a general structure. The one presented here is recommended by The Op-Ed Project, a great organization that seeks to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world, especially from women. An Op-Ed should have:

  1. Lede: Establishes why and for what this Op-Ed matters, and it needs to be pegged to a news hook;
  2. Thesis: Statement of your argument, either explicit or implied;
  3. Argument: Based on evidence, such as stats, news, reports from credible organizations, expert quotes, scholarship, history, first-hand experience;
  4. “To Be Sure” Paragraph: In which you pre-empt potential critics by acknowledging any obvious counter-arguments;
  5. Conclusion: Have a clear ending, and if you can, circle back to your lede.

Your lede should be brief, to-the-point, and make the connection to the news hook clear. If you are a labor sociologist, it is clear how your argument relates to that a news story on disparities in earnings. At other times, the connection can be less clear, but no less compelling. For example, a labor sociologist could just as easily use a popular movie like The Wolf of Wall Street to discuss gender, sexism and financialization during the 1980s.

In either case, your lede should establish who you are, why you are talking about this topic, and how it relates to a news item of interest. To present who you are and why you are talking to this subject, you should establish your credibility very early on. One way to do this is to lead with your baubles. Consider every title, position, and publication you hold and highlight the ones that best represent you and the relevance for the topic. Each of these signal to editors and a general audience that you are expert. This is analogous to using citations efficiently in an academic article.The primary difference is that general audiences generally do not want a literature review or bibliography. Instead, they need to trust that you know the literature. To establish that; speak to who you are rather than what you know.

The thesis, argument, counter-argument, and conclusion are more self-evident. Just remember to stick to one point, make the connections between each piece of evidence clear for your audience, and do not rely on jargon. A well-crafted Op-Ed, written by an expert who can translate relevant research for a broad public audience is both attractive to a media outlet and a valuable contribution to public intellectual life.

tressie-mcmillan-cottom-bio-headshot~ This blog post was written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd),a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Emory University and a PhD Intern at the Microsoft Social Media Collective in Cambridge, MA. She has written Op-Eds for the New York Times (here and here) and is a regular columnist for Slate Magazine. More of her writing can be found on her website here.   

 

The Importance of Audio and Podcasts

The first thing I learned about podcasting was that it is powerful medium. Podcasting is powerful not only because it has the ability to relate complex arguments into digestible bits of information, but also because it can transform those arguments into relatable stories. Rather than shoving statistics at an audience, podcasts can transform statistics about subjects (i.e. the number of people arrested in 2012 in the U.S. on nonviolent drug charges was 1.55 million) into stories about real people who felt the impact of those statistics. The unique ability of audio to highlight the experience of making knowledge can also connect listeners to scholarship in a way that books often fail to do. Podcasts can allow academics to infuse themselves into the arguments they make rather than downplay their connection to their scholarship.


Podcasts – meaning audio uploaded to iTunes – are just one way to use audio to connect with a wider audience. There are many other platforms including WordPress, SoundCloud, and MixCloud that allow you to share audio. Often, these non-iTunes venues allow for a stronger engagement with your audience because they allow users to post comments on audio files. And, depending on your resources, posting at all four of these venues can give you the most engagement.

Making a good podcast requires planning. A podcast posted on iTunes should have a consistent length, release time, and theme to be successful. In other words, if you want a create a weekly interview-based topically connected 15 minute podcast series, iTunes is probably the most powerful platform to gain a strong following. On the other hand, if you want to post interviews sporadically and have audio that varies in length and topic then something like SoundCloud or your own personal WordPress site would probably gain more traction.

Not all good audio projects have to be formatted like a podcast. Projects can vary in length and subject but use the same intro and outro to make the audio files cohesive. For example, the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series uses the same music intro and outro for every episode. We also use that slice of audio for our shorter audio projects that we post exclusively to SoundCloud.

Collecting audio does not have to be expensive, but it can be. Like most media projects, you can make podcasts as expensive or inexpensive as you want. SoundCloud has the hefty price tag of $121.50 per year to upload an unlimited number of tracks. Using services like BuzzSprout, which offer podcast hosting can cost between $12 and $24 a month. You can upload audio to a server and link that file in a post in your WordPress site. Audio files take up a large amount of room so, often, you will have to pay for some type of server space.

You can be scrappy with equipment. Smartphones have the ability to record surprisingly excellent audio. iPhone apps like Voice Recorder HD ($1.99) or the built in Voice Memos can give you high quality audio. If you want to have higher quality audio you can purchase a number of different microphones that plug directly into your computer (I like the Apogee Electronics MiC Studio Quality USB Microphone) or that plug right into your iPhone or Android (I like the Rode SmartLav or the iRig MIC Cast).

Editing can make all the difference. You can use a number of different programs to edit your audio. GarageBand is one of the easier ways to learn to edit your audio. You can record directly into GarageBand or import audio from prerecorded files. It is free to Mac users so it is a great option for beginners. Audacity is free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds that is compatible with PCs and Macs. It is slightly more clunky than GarageBand, but is an equally effective way to edit audio.

Length is up for debate. There are ongoing debates about how long a podcast should be. Some say 3 minutes, some say 30 minutes. I say, the most important thing is to pick a length and stick to it. If your audience is engaging with 30-minutes of content, there is no reason to switch to a 3 minute format. On the other hand, if you are making 30-minute podcasts and no one is engaging with them, it may be time to rethink your strategy.

There are many different types of podcasts. One powerful way to weave stories for listeners is through audio interviews. The podcasts and audio that I have produced for JustPublics@365 have mostly consisted of these. I think interviews are most effective when combined with “on the ground” audio, but they can also be powerful in and of themselves.

When JustPublics@365 interviewed people affected by the East Harlem Building Collapse the interviews were edited to have the same intro and outro for every interview in addition to the same music from the JustPublics@365 Series.

For example:

This method of interviewing consisted of asking the interviewee a series of questions to get them primed for the interview and then recording their uninterrupted story from start to finish. When editing these interviews, I inserted myself only in the beginning and end in order to give context to the story.

When creating the JustPublics@365 Podcast Series, I took a different approach and included my questions in the produced audio. This interview style podcast involved in-depth research and thought out questions, which I shared with the interviewee before the interview. These podcasts are structured in a way that allows for replicability and their format is designed for a structured ongoing series.

For example:

The most important thing is consistency. However you decide to structure your podcast, you should be consistent and stick to your strategy!

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Heidi Knoblauch (@heidiknoblauch) is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Medicine at Yale University and JustPublics@365′s podcast producer.

A Guide to Blogging for Academics

Blogging can be a great way to find a broader audience for your academic research. Moving research out of the ivory tower and into the public sphere has the potential to address some of the most pressing social problems.  In the words Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson of the London School of Economics, “Blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.”

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                               Image by Chris Lysy FreshSpectrum

On the fourth anniversary of my blog,  Sociology Source, I want to share some of what I’ve learned about making research in my field of sociology accessible to a broad, public audience. Throughout my teaching, my work on Sociology In Focus, and the one-off projects like the “Doing Nothing” video, I’ve been developing my skills at communicating highly complex ideas using language that most people without specialized training in sociology could easily understand. The guidelines that follow are designed to help your scholarly work find it’s largest audience.

1. Talk to Me: Acknowledge the Reader.

EXAMPLE: Many scholars today argue that when sharing your ideas with your audience the use of the third grammatical person places distance between the two parties whereas employing the first and second person delivers a reading experience that is superior in it’s intimacy with the reader.

  • Write as if your reader is in the room with you.
  • Show don’t tell. Don’t be afraid to slip into a narrative to allow your reader to experience the event first hand.

2. Just Say It: Don’t lead with a disclaimer or qualifier.

EXAMPLE: I don’t want you to read this and think I am trying to be mean. I’m also not trying to say that this applies to all forms of writing. As I said above, these are just my opinions.

  • Your first sentence exists to entice the reader to read the second sentence. Your first paragraph’s job is to intrigue your reader so they are compelled to read the second. And so on and so on.

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3. K.I.S.S. : Keep it Simple Scholar

EXAMPLE: Academic writers who use jargon and esoteric language are often preoccupied with communicating their cultural capital to their peers and because of this they sacrifice what could be a learning opportunity for a lay audience.

  • Mercilessly destroy jargon. If you absolutely have to use a piece of jargon, don’t just define the term. Introduce the term to your reader using an anecdote or other illustrative tool.
  • The greater the pre-requisite amount of education a reader must have to understand your reading, the smaller your audience will be and the smaller your impact will be.

4. Get in & Get Out.

  • Keep it succinct. If possible, keep any blog post to less than 500 words.
  • Oh the hypocrisy! This blog post is 790 words long!

5. No, It’s Not All Important

  • Only present the reader with information that is essential for them to understand your larger points. “Kill your darlings” as the saying goes. Delete non-essential information.
  • As an academic, you have an expert’s mind, so to you it’s all essential. Try to remember back to when you were a novice to your subject and how you saw your subject as a beginner. Then, write to answer the questions of the reader with a beginners mind.

6. If You Have Something to Say, Say It

  • Say something compelling, intriguing, challenging, inspiring, evocative, poignant, or otherwise interesting.
  • If what you write is something that you sincerely believe and something that empirical research can back up, then take the risk and hit publish.

7. Don’t Let Perfection Be The Enemy of The Good

  • Focus on clearly communicating your ideas. It’s more important that you share your ideas with the world than it is to make sure your writing is 100% error free. Get in the public arena and mix it up with people.
  • Your writing isn’t etched in stone. Remember that unlike print, you can immediately change errors as your readers point them out to you.

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                                                      (image source)

8. Scholarly Writing vs. Public Writing

Not every scholarly publication needs to be written so that a the general public can read it. There is value in scholars writing for peers in academic journals in ways that are highly technical and complex. However, as academics we need to cultivate a community of scholars that are highly skilled in communicating esoteric research into texts that can be read by a general audience.

You can download my full Guide to Writing Online here. For more tips on academic blogging (and some terrific drawings), see the Illustrated Blogging Advice for Researchers, created by Chris Lysy.

Happy blogging!

PalmerPic_350-331~ This post was written by Nathan Palmer, a sociologist at Georgia Southern University and founder of the blog SociologySource.org. You can follow him on Twitter @SociologySource.

 

Whose Barrio? Latino Community Resists Gentrification

As gentrification rolls across New York City like a tsunami, residents of lower-income neighborhoods like East Harlem are both concerned and conflicted about the changes occurring around them. This “Latino core” has one of the highest concentrations of public housing in the country. According to educator-scholar-activist Edwin Mayorga, approximately 31% of East Harlem residents in poverty, 45% are children and of those, 55% are Latino.

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With luxury housing replacing older tenements, residential and commercial rents on the rise, and more wealthy, primarily White, people moving in, current residents are already being priced out, and the flavor of the neighborhood is changing. As one resident interviewed in Ed Morales’ documentary Whose Barrio? described, gentrification in East Harlem is the “urban removal” of Latino residents. The film, created by journalists Ed Morales and Laura Rivera’s and released in 2009, examines the changes in East Harlem through the perspectives of several residents, some of whom oppose them and others who welcome it. You can watch the full film here and watch the trailer here:

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While East Harlem has already begun to experience these changes, there is a strong network of community groups, cultural institutions, tenants’ rights organizations, and other activists working to advocate for the neighborhood. Furthermore, with gentrification impacting so many communities across the city, the issue is gaining the attention of the general population and policymakers. With a history of activism and an identity as a strong Latino community, many in East Harlem are actively resisting the pressures of gentrification. As the community response to recent tragic explosion and building collapse demonstrated, this neighborhood is a cohesive and engaged community that stands a chance to resist some of the destabilizing changes that accompany gentrification.

Open Scholarship for Open Education

The promise of massive, open online courses is that they would be available to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, and that could be revolutionary.

Unfortunately, these attempts at open education are mostly not that open.  This is especially true when it comes to reading materials which are severely limited because of copyright restrictions. In spring, 2013 when we piloted our massively participatory open, online course (#InQ13), we worked with librarians to find and use legitimately open access reading materials. As it turned out, this involved a lot of work on the part of some heroic librarians.

This presentation from the CUNY IT Conference, 2013 explains some of the nuances of that process:

If you’d like to read about the nuts and bolts of this in more detail, here is a self-archived, pre-print version of our paper “Open Scholarship for Open Education,” co-authored by Shawn(ta) Smith, Polly Thistlethwaite and me.

Tarnished Gold: The Tale of Bohannon, DOAJ, and the Predators

Many of us may remember the Sokal hoax of 1996. Alan Sokal, a physics professor, successfully published a hoax article in Social Text in order to ridicule humanities scholarship.  More recently, last fall, John Bohannon, a journalist for Science, sent out a significantly scientifically flawed “spoof” article about a wonder drug. He sent the article to 304 open access journals. The majority of these journals published the “spoof” article. Why did he do this? He wanted to prove that open access journals offer very little or no peer-review. Many of the journals were listed in the main portal for open access journals, the Directory of Open Access Journals aka DOAJ.

The first question to ask is why so many open access journals accepted the sham article. The answer, although not obvious, is that there is a dark side to open access: predatory publishers.

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Predatory publishers have always existed in various guises. Most academics are familiar with the vanity-press style monograph publishers that exist to help authors get their work into print. Even in commercial journal publishing unethical practices are not atypical (try googling “fake Elsevier journals“).  Junket-y conferences are another face of predatory publishing.

Nefarious publishers have always existed but the new twist comes with technology. Anyone can install a free publishing platform and call themselves a journal publisher. This is great but also problematic. New “gold” open access journals can be launched easily. Some open access journals charge authors article processing charges to help cover costs. This is most common in the STEM fields where authors build these fees into their grants and/or can get funding from their universities.

As in the past, there is good money to be made on the backs of desperate and/or naïve scholars rushing towards tenure and promotion. Now the process is as simple as submitting a paper online.

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And no revisions to worry about! Visa, MasterCard, or PayPal, please.

Predatory publishers have mushroomed, spinning off vaguely named and copycat titled journals. Spam emails lure in new fish.

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Many of us first learned about predatory publishers from a New York Times piece about Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian, and his crusade to save us from the predators by listing them on his blog. Beall’s “list” was the A to Z of what we knew about predatory publishing. And then came Bohannon.

Bohannon’s sting caused a firestorm, but his method was flawed. Why not also probe how many toll-access publishers would accept the article? Bohannon’s conclusions were dubious–the majority of journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals actually rejected the article and a majority on Beall’s list accepted the article. Yet in the aftermath, there has been considerable hand-wringing. The question was now:

Who is policing open access?
Those creepy predatory journals are giving open access a bad name!
 

In response, I recommend that everyone read “On the mark? Responses to a sting” as well as librarian Barbara Fister’s thoughtful comments on the issue.  There are also helpful organizations including OASPA, COPE, and SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access Journals in addition to the broader SPARC organization.

But what happens when a discovery tool takes on a bigger role?

DOAJ tightened inclusion standards after the sting and now offers a seal of approval. The new standards are not without flaws:  (paid) registration with CrossRef is difficult for small and/or one-off open access publishers. However, DOAJ should be lauded for their efforts to keep the predatory publishers at bay. At least 114 journals were removed from DOAJ after the Bohannon scandal.

But Dorothea Salo in the aforementioned group commentary “On the mark?” notes:

This is progress, but a cursory examination of the new DOAJ criteria shows that they are crediting good practices such as peer review, rather than punishing bad practices such as email spam, falsely-listed editors, and junkety conferences. … Its program simply does not suffice to eliminate all the scammers and scammy practices.

It’s still too early to tell if DOAJ’s efforts will make a difference. We need much more public education about gold open access and how it differs entirely from predatory publishing. The recent scandal involving Springer and IEEE publishing 120 “gibberish” papers is further evidence that scholarly communications based on peer-review needs reform. Is open peer-review the answer? Are predatory publishers just an expression of a transitional period and will they wither as open access grows to the stage where it is widely understood and embraced?

The Unhappy Divorce of Journalism and the Social Sciences

Just about the worst thing you can say about a piece of sociological writing is that it’s “journalistic.” The term is often used as a criticism, interchangeable at times with “descriptive”, “thin,” or just plain superficial.

There’s good reason many us have little confidence in journalism: the closer a story comes to our own experience, the easier it is to see its flaws. Take, for example, the article about the proliferation of “hooking up” on college campuses that appeared in The New York Times a few years ago.

Image from NYT "Sex on Campus"(Source: New York Times, “Sex on Campus”)

The story claimed that hooking up—sex outside of relationships—is commonplace on college campuses, and is being pursued as actively by women as men. On the basis of interviews with a small number of women at elite schools like the University of Pennsylvania, the article claimed that busy women students didn’t have time for full-blown relationships, so they opted for more superficial sexual liaisons.

It was quickly denounced by sociologists, who charged that the reporter based on claims on flimsy evidence. It was even more roundly criticized on the Internet by college students who felt that the article’s generalizations were unfair or inaccurate. Many of their classmates were indeed pursuing long-term relationships, some argued. A veritable cottage industry of commentary cropped up alongside the article, showing the press’ power to incite and engage. (See, for example http://goo.gl/vg57t.)

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“Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story,” journalists frequently joke. And in fact, for journalists, who must hook the reader in and keep their attention in order to hold onto their jobs, storytelling is an end in itself. Since their audiences are reading for the sheer pleasure of good writing, they write, at least partly, to entertain, and to encourage readers to keep reading.

This is how George Saunders, the award-winning author of nonfiction and short stories, puts it:

“I’m essentially trying to impersonate a first-time reader who has to pick up the story and at every point has to decide whether to continue reading.” If an “intelligent person picks it up, they’ll keep going. It’s an intimate thing between equals. I’m not above you talking down. We’re on the same level. You’re just as smart, just as worldly, just as curious as I am.”

Academic books, in contrast, tend to be written for a finite group of other experts, conveying an argument which is typically based on  an extended research project. Writing a first book, which often emerges out of a dissertation, you may envision your audiences as particular professors on a tenure committee. Later on, you’re probably addressing experts in your field. While the writing should be persuasive, academics don’t particularly care if they’re holding the reader’s attention or not; they assume that what they say is inherently interesting, and that their potential readers are sufficiently intrigued by the topic to read on —even if the writing is less than scintillating.

Faced with these differences of purpose and audience, some would suggest that we leave storytelling to the journalists, and sociologizing to the sociologists. Let journalists speak to the people, while let sociologists keep working in the trenches, doing the hard work of data collection and analysis. As a graduate student of mine recently told me, “Sociology is supposed to be serious and scientific, not entertaining and story-like.”

Sociology and journalism, he was taught, are as different as cows and horses.

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Early in their graduate school careers, students learn that professionalization means performing the role of sociologist, and differentiating oneself from those who value good writing for their own sake, and who write to entertain—writers of fiction and nonfiction. Rather than writing pleasurable prose, they are supposed to be advancing sociological knowledge.

But in fact, sociology and journalism have long existed in relation to one another. For one thing, sociologists know what they know partly through the media. And of course social scientists rely, at times, upon the media to disseminate our ideas to broader publics.

Likewise, journalists regularly mine sociological work for insights on everything from young adults’ changing pathways to adulthood, to the question of whether equality diminishes sexual desire, and sociologists are used to being consulted as experts for that telling quote on a variety of subjects. The best journalists do even more: browsing the web and journals for story ideas. They regularly raid our work, popularizing it for others to consume—at times without citing us.

Sociologists and journalists also have in common the fact that they’re both in the business of producing representations of social reality— stories– accounts of connected events that unfolds through time, which have characters that interact with another in different settings. Journalists and sociologists have different strategies of storytelling, to be sure. When journalists tell stories about social phenomena, such as hooking up on college campuses and other social trends, they tend to tell them through the lives of individuals—they show the reader what is going on, painting portraits of scenes and characters. Sociologists, in contrast, tell—they make arguments, drawing on data— numbers if we are quantitative sociologist, or vignettes and thick description if we are ethnographers.

But while we sociologists have been busy honing our rigorous methodological skills and ways of telling, we’ve ceded the field of translation, which requires showing, to smart journalists. By failing to discuss our work in compelling ways, we limit its impact, placing a wall, in effect, between our work and potential audiences.

Rather than deride “popular sociology” which addresses larger publics, in book-length works of general interest as well as shorter articles and essays –it’s time to reclaim it as something to aspire to. Popular sociology offers the general reader a sociological take on something he or she may be curious about. It embodies a hybrid style of writing, bridging journalism and sociology by showing and telling, painting a portrait of a group, a scene, or a trend that unfolds over time, offering thick description while analyzing what is occurring beneath the surface of events.

~ Arlene Stein is Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, and editor of Contexts Magazine. You can follow her at twitter @SteinArlene. She blogs at https://steinarlene.wordpress.com.

Cathy N. Davidson Visiting In-Person for Lunchtime Discussion of #FutureEd

How do you unlearn? How do you remove the filters we have – like culture – that may prevent us from learning?

We’ll explore these questions and others having to do with the transformation of higher education in the 21st century tomorrow at our lunchtime discussion section of the meta-MOOC curated by Cathy N. Davidson.

And, as a special treat, tomorrow we’ll actually have Professor Davidson live, in person, with us at the discussion!

Everyone is welcome (if you don’t work at the GC, simply come to the building at 365 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 34th St., show your photo ID, and proceed  to the Dining Commons, 8th Floor).  Look for the JustPublics@365 tent cards on tables near the back (the banquettes).

The discussion will be lead by: Lisa Brundage (Director, CUNY Advance), Polly Thistlethwaite (Chief Librarian), and me, Jessie Daniels (Professor, CUNY).

 

Closing Out Punishment to Public Health Series

As we close out our series on “Punishment to Public Health,” I wanted to thank the many scholars, activists and journalists who contributed to the series. I also wanted to draw your attention to some relevant news.

You may have heard Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State speech in which he came out with a proposal for limited distribution of medical marijuana. This is clearly a situation where leaders are following constituents, given that a majority of New Yorkers support medical marijuana.  This is a decidedly public health, rather than punishment, approach to this issue.

Perhaps more remarkable was Vermont Gov. Shumlin’s State of the State speech in which he spent the entire time addressing the problem of heroin in Vermont. In a turn from the usual “lock them up and throw away the key” approach to drugs, Gov. Shumlin’s framed Vermont’s trouble with heroin as a public health problem.

Both of these gubernatorial mentions of drug policy are at least partly the result of efforts by one of our partners this year, Drug Policy Alliance.  The reframing of drug policy as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue was the focus of our last two Summits. Of course, it’s impossible to draw a straight line of causation between any single event but it does speak to the relevance of this topic series.

 

What is the Future of Higher Education, and How Can We Transform It?

What is the future of higher education?  This is the central question posed by educator, author, innovator   Cathy Davidson, Professor of English at Duke University and co-founder of HASTAC, in an open, online course that launches at the end of January.  Davidson has designed an intriguing course on “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education: Or, How We Can Unlearn Our Old Patterns and Relearn for a Happier, More Productive, Ethical, and Socially-Engaged Future.”

The six-week long course, hosted through Coursera (sign up is free), will use a variety of methods (lecture, discussion and interview) to deliver the course digitally to participants all over the world.  The course is just one element in a larger HASTAC initiative #FutureEd.

From the beginning, JustPublics@365 has been deeply engaged in questions of transformation in higher education, so we are partnering with Davidson and HASTAC to bring discussions of the Davidson’s course and of #FutureEd. to the CUNY Graduate Center.

We will meet on Fridays, January 24-March 14 from  12pm-1pm in the Dining Commons (on 8th Floor).  Everyone is welcome (if you don’t work at the GC, simply come to the building at 365 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 34th St., show your photo ID, and proceed to the elevators to the 8th floor).  Discussions will be lead by: Lisa Brundage (Director, CUNY Advance), Jessie Daniels (Professor), and Polly Thistlethwaite (Chief Librarian).

The recommended readings for the course are Professor Davidson’s book Now You See It: How Technology and the Brain Science of Attention Will Change the Way We Live, Work and Learn (Viking2011), which will be made available free online for the first 50,000 students registered for this course, and two readings available as free downloads,  Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies: A Guide to New Theories, Methods, and Practices for Open Peer Teaching and Learning, and the Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. The learning objectives are for the course are as follows:

  • Understand how and why we inherited the Industrial Age educational systems.
  • Think deeply about the requirements of the world we live in now.
  • Discover new ideas, methods, competencies, and subject matter.
  • Share our pathways to successful innovation with others around the world. Together, we can change schools, classrooms, institutions, learning–and maybe ourselves!

Our lunchtime meetings in the Dining Commons will serve as a local and informal “discussion section” of the course and of the future of higher education.  We’re interested in thinking about the future of higher education, as well as about how we might shape that future of higher education in ways that promote social justice.

If you are reading this post, then you have the basic skills necessary to participate in the online course, and you can sign up for free at Coursera.  If you eat lunch on Fridays, and are in the vicinity of the GC, then please join us!

Special Interview with Ernie Drucker

JustPublics@365 Ernie Drucker
Ernest Drucker is an epidemiologist at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, a Scholar in Residence at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and author of the 2011 book, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America. He is licensed as a Clinical Psychologist in NY State and conducts research in AIDS, drug policy, and prisons and is active in public health and human rights efforts in the US and abroad.

 

 


Can you share a little bit about how your research speaks to the issues of criminalization of public health?

Well, I’m an epidemiologist. It’s principally looking at the numbers independent of the individual experience. They tell a story in their own right basically because of how large they are, how big the disparities are between by race and ethnicity and how much of it is related to drugs.


How does criminalization and mass incarceration affected the lives of people in your research?

Well, it’s the fact that you’ve programmed a level of involvement in the criminal justice system into the lives of such a large portion especially the poor black male community of the United States that it’s almost like in a water supply and the nutriments that they get in the opposite direction of course.

The facts that are important here are that about 40% of young black men at this point can expect to be, if rates continued at the same rate, can expect to be in prison basically some time in their lifetime. The current figure is over 30%, about 35% but it’s going up. Even though the prison rates are going down, the probability of any individual being involved in this is so great.

The experience of Stop-and-Frisk in New York is a good example of the way the system reaches as it were and involves people in experiences that are based on an assumption that they’re involved in criminal activity reaching a peak of 700,000 stops-and-frisks in a year and a half ago in New York City. That, as an epidemiologist, who used to work on occupational and environmental health, we looked at people’s exposures to things like asbestos, mercury, toxins in the environment.

You can look at this as a toxin that’s very widespread in the African-American community of United States especially affecting young men who are most prone to be involved in behaviors like drugs, violence, being on the street that makes them vulnerable to getting picked up by the system.

Once they’re picked up by it, and so they’ve been infected. They carry it with them really pretty much their whole life because so much of that the structure of punishment, of mandatory sentences are connected up to what’s called predicate offenses – the idea that the first time you do something you make a probation for it. The next time you get a sentence, the next time you get a bigger sentence for exactly the same behavior. It’s a system that I imagine it’s deterring people but in fact that they reappear again and again shows that that’s not so.


What are your thoughts on policy approaches that draw from public health rather than criminal justice? Are there any examples of policy approaches that draw from public health rather than criminal justice? If so, do you think these are better or just reproduce the same systems of inequality?

Well, the policies in the criminal justice system don’t intentionally draw from public health. That’s not their model to that crime and punishment. One of the biggest contradictions or conflicts between the two models is that criminal justice model very much like medicine or a law enforcement is inherently on an individual basis, right? It’s about an individual who commits a crime. He gets charged, tried, convicted, acquitted, whatever but it’s a highly individual matter. In fact in the courts, sociological evidences are not really admissible as part of the discussion of the significance of an individual’s action. Therefore the individual case of crime and punishment is the unit of the criminal justice system.

The statistics that you do about populations in the throne of justice system are very similar to the ones that we do in public health-what could be done to help populations instead of individuals. What most of them don’t realize is that public health like medicine which is alive too is an interventional field. It’s like medicine. It’s involved in doing something about things. However these things that does that are not on the individual case basis but on the population affected. You reduce exposure to toxic fumes for everybody, not just people who get sick for a moment.

Try to apply that model to the criminal justice system is a stretch and needs an explanation because its’ engine, it’s the basis of decision making and justification is highly individual.

Now of course the intention behind it is exactly not individual, it’s societal, it’s collective. The idea of deterrents as referred for criminal penalties as opposed to deterrents for other people from doing bad things is inherently social. The effects although not examined that way usually are also very social. A guy goes to prison and leaves behind a family. That family is profoundly affected but what they do even public health for example that affect the mortality rate, the life expectancy and the achievement in college, the likelihood of going to prison. All those things are dramatically affected for the children of people who go to prison. It’s set in motion before they’re even old enough to commit a crime and get arrested.

That becomes the epidemic aspect of it, that’s how something is transmitted from generation to generation or passed from individual to individual by exposure the same way a coal miner coming home from the coal mines with coal dust on his clothes would make his child more likely to get lung disease. Likewise for a parent involved in criminal justice system in addition to the … I mean the fact of it is clear and the mechanism of it. It’s not the same as a physical exposure. It’s a psychic exposure, more in common with war and PTSD and trauma than it has in common with physical exposure to toxins but yeah, it does act as toxin.

We have a concept now that’s gaining. Currency about toxic stress actually comes out of pediatrics and developmental studies. Children, the idea that levels of abuse in a family that go on over time-living with an uncle that sexually abuses a little girl who keeps quiet about it. The stress of that builds overtime. No doubt there’s damage and that’s being recognized now.

The same thing with this large rate of criminal justice involvement – arrest, prison time, coming out with a stigma, going back in again – its relation to other criminal activities that aren’t inherently, drug use especially, it’s not the same as natural, the things that everyone agrees that are bad and shouldn’t do them, like assault, rape, kidnapping. Everybody agrees that those are things people shouldn’t do and you want laws against doing it. You want to enforce those laws.

The issue of punishment is a separate one but the idea of criminalization and why criminalization takes the form that it does is a very good question. We are obviously in a period now of criminalization amongst everything. About 35% of all Americans have a criminal record at this point.


The last question I have is a major focus of the just publics at 365 Project is bringing together academics, activists and journalists in ways that promote social justice, civic engagement and greater democracy. What sort of lessons learned do you have from your experience with your research about academics entering a terrain more frequently trialed by activists and journalists?

Well, academics have been involved in criminology forever. They’ve invented it but the more critical issue now is in the current world where you have ideas you want to have a voice in public policy and be understood by the general public are very important. You run up against, in terms of the way in which academics and journalists can play a role in public attitudes, literacy and ultimately support for or antagonism to new policies directly relates to what you’re talking about in just publics, and that is the development of public literacy, public understanding, public attitudes and not leave that to Fox News. The people who exploit to either gain attention, which is certainly true in politics like the tough-on-crime posture, is not particularly interested in statistics or outcomes because it’s another tool of promoting political careers and staking out of a place has become a mainstay of political strategies now. Anybody who doesn’t take that road get slammed by their opponents and so stays away from it. You haven’t heard a word about drugs and drug sentencing, drug regularization laws which are going on in the country. You haven’t heard a word about that in any political campaign in recent years, I haven’t at least. What was once upfront and can fit the most important issue even a dozen years ago isn’t there anymore because they recognize that there’s a lot of politicians, that there’s a lot of change in attitudes about drug recently, about drug laws, drug legalization now, a lot of legalizations now supported by 58% of adult population. You have legalizations in two states, Colorado and Washington for marijuana and other states doing a similar thing now. You can begin to see a crumbling on the war of drugs which has been the mighty engine that has driven massive incarceration but it will take its place in the immigration, immigration consulates and again the same thing again with the politicization of that discussion at the expense of immigrants who built this country with their hands, 400,000 deep rotations last year, a whole private industry. It’s imprisoning these people and transporting them. Sex offense is another growing issue of criminalization – watching porn on the internet. It can get you entrapped into major prison time. The financial crimes, not the Burney Maddox things but the small things like child support which fairly connects with child support. This is often built into the release arrangements, parole of people coming out of prison who are piling up to pay child support would come out of prison unable to earn any money certainly to pay back those debts. That becomes an example of something that’s set up to feed the criminal justice and prison system, which is going down from the drop in drug enforcement and drug arrest which is sad even though drugs are doing fine in America, methamphetamine trade especially. There isn’t the same appetite for pursuing it as there was. It becomes less of an issue in creating a prison population versus other things – immigration and financial crimes and sex offenses take its place.


Could you tell me about your work in harm reduction and, more broadly, organizations that have a desire to shift from a criminalization modality to a public health modality?


Harm reduction you asked about organization that have arisen, have a desire to change this model from criminal to public health. We have an organization called From Punishment to Public Health which is a collaboration of John Jay The City University, you guys, the Columbia School of Public Health, NYU School of Medicine and other departments on these institutions focusing on the issues for New York City that sit at the intersection of public health and criminal justice, things like domestic violence, drug overdoses, violence of all sorts actually done especially.

You really have to extend some effort to separate the public health view of something like gun violence from the criminal view of it, because the numbers and so even though they have a much lower than this, they’re still very substantial. You can’t pick up a paper in New York or Chicago. How do they know Los Angeles without review of awful shooting that destroyed people’s lives. When you count those up they become the major source of death and injury for many young adults and not to mention all the bystanders who get hit.
In the face of the politics of guns in United States and the NIH, it’s suppression of exactly public health research. The NIH managed to get the freeze on the CDC’s ability to do gun research going back to back 10 years, because when you look for the answers to these things, the question is like how many are affected, who, what makes a difference, what time of day – all those stuff is very hard to find because it allowed to be funded by CDC or NIH in the last decade. That’s changing now I think on the new machines that are coming in but there’s a real vacuum here. But that’s a natural place for public health methods looking at the angry kid effects, making maps looking at risk by age and location and gender. All are very, very powerful tools that in fact make a lot of sense for looking at criminal justice issues through a public health lens.

The harm reduction, how it relates to drugs and a view of accepting the fact that drug use is pretty universal. Always has been, always will be. That our goals have to be to reduce the consequences especially, those related to violence. More and more countries are thinking about drug policy in these terms.

Now, all the policy creates this violence. The most dramatic cases being those near us, in sexual marriage in Mexico, which is a huge epidemic of violence associated with the drug business to sell products that are essentially almost worthless. They are very worthless but free. The efforts to bring these drugs: cocaine, marijuana, heroin into the American market are associated with 60,000 murders in Mexico over the last 5, 6 years.

Talk about outsourcing. This is a problem that was in the United States at the time of the peak of the war on drugs in the 80s crack wars when between the start of the war on drugs in the 70s and the decline in crime in the 90s in the 20-year-period, there were 200,000 extra homicides compared to the 10 years before and the 10 years since when the enforcement and the violence associated with drug enforcement in the United States diminished dramatically but moved over to Mexico into the supply side and the local markets.

A wonderful film called The House I Live In by Jarecki which is really, does a very good job of telling the whole story but especially depicting the level of violence of drug enforcement in this period and the exposure to that of so many people. That’s was the mechanism that built the prison population and once you’re in it, you stay in it one way or another, reset in the prison, re-entry and all that.

 

(new) Public Goods– Thursday oct. 3 @ the New School 9:30-12:30

(New) Public Goods: Design, Aesthetics and Politics. Oct, 3 @ 9:30am

Parsons the New School for Design and the School of Design Strategies invites you to the 2013 Stephan Weiss Lecture Series:

(New) Public Goods: Design, Aesthetics and Politics
A conversation curated by Eduardo Staszowski, Vyjayanthi Rao, Scott Brown and Virginia Tassinari.

Thursday, October 3
9:30am-12:30pm

Location: Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall
The New School, 55 West 13th Street, 2nd Floor, New York

This Fall’s Stephan Weiss Lecture considers the import of design practices concerned with the production and distribution of public goods, including public services and utilities, public policy, government institutions, and other organizations working within the public realm or subjected to broad public scrutiny. Increasingly, the focus of design is shifting from questions of form to questions of transformation. The Weiss Lecture will explore the challenges these design practices pose to the relationship between institutional infrastructure and regulative norms, as well as to emerging forms of commons and community. Configured as a Design Strategies Dialogue, this event brings together five leading figures from the world of design and the social sciences, alongside discussants Clive Dilnot, Victoria Hattam and Jamer Hunt:

PELLE EHN: Professor at Malmö University’s School of Arts and Communication

MARIA HELLSTRÖM REIMER: Professor at Malmö University School of Arts and Communication and Director of Studies for the Swedish Faculty for Design Research and Research Education

CARL DISALVO: Associate Professor in the Digital Media program in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology

JOAN GREENBAUM: Professor Emerita at City University of New York and the New Media Lab at the CUNY Graduate Center

KEITH MURPHY: Assistant Professor of Anthropology at University of California Irvine.

With Discussants: Clive Dilnot, Victoria Hattam and Jamer Hunt

Activist East Harlem Walking Tour

New York City has long been a hub of activism.  An exhibition on Activist New York at the Museum of the City of New York uses artifacts, photographs, multimedia presentations to tell a broad story about activism in the five boroughs across a wide range of issues such as  civil rights and racial justice, fair wages, civil rights for LGBT people, and religious freedom.  New York is an intellectual and academic hub as well, so many of these activists movements have also included scholars, professors, and public intellectuals without institutional affiliation.

AEH_WalkingRegister here.

On Tuesday, 9/10 at 3pm, The Museum of the City of New York is offering an Activist East Harlem Walking Tour, co-sponsored by the Gotham Center of the Graduate Center, CUNY.

Some of us from JustPublics@365 will be on the tour, as well.  One of our goals is to help build digital elements of the walking tour that will be informed by scholarship by and about the neighborhood of East Harlem and openly available to everyone.