Posts Tagged 'sociology'

a ‘what if’ story about a dissertation opened up too late

I posted my 2003 Stanford dissertation, Gender Mistakes and Inequality, on the open access pre-print server SocArxiv in July of 2016 and it has been downloaded over 2000 times to date (it got out of the gate strong too). Prior to that, it had been cited once, and I assume read (maybe) by my committee and the few friends I begged for feedback. I never submitted it to a ‘real’ journal, so it was available in print at Stanford Libraries and behind the ProQuest paywall only.

Here’s what I think would have happened if I could have deposited it (or an earlier  working version of it, even) in SocArxiv all those years ago:

  1. I could have gotten feedback from folks other than my committee and fellow grad students. My favorite part of my dissertation is the nascent queer theory part, but there was no one in the Stanford sociology department whose work was even close to the same ballpark as queer theory then. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and my committee wasn’t telling me.
  2. Related to #1, I like to think that with the chance at more diverse readers I would have revised some of the cringe-worthy parts of the manuscript that are not trans-inclusive at all. My advisor, a well-known gender scholar, does not do any work that really questions the gender binary; so even though my dissertation is all about what happens when we are ‘wrong’ about someone’s gender, it still hews pretty closely to binary and non-mutable conceptions of sex and gender. That sucks and I’m embarrassed by that. If an early version of this had been on a SocArxiv, maybe someone would have told me about the sucky parts and I could have made those parts not suck.
  3. If it were widely and openly available early on, maybe I would have realized that it had a potential readership; and maybe I would have prioritized revising it for submission to a ‘real’ sociology journal. That, in turn, could have gotten the ideas and the findings into the literature way earlier.

I know some folks are concerned that grad students and junior scholars are ill-served by incentives to publish working papers in open access repositories like SocArxiv because they might be embarrassed at criticism of ideas and work that is not fully vetted and not ready for prime-time. My experience is the opposite – I would have welcomed a more open and diverse audience, criticism and all, of my dissertation. As it is, I’m embarrassed by parts of it that I fully believe would have been caught and corrected/revised if it had been available openly to a wider audience early on.

So, yeah, I fully support the proposal to open up ASA section paper awards; and so should you.

a dissertation finds her readers

By now, I hope y’all have heard of SocArXiv, a new open social science archive. I think it is one of the most promising new projects in open access scholarship right now. Of course, I’m a bit biased, being on the Steering Committee and all. But the fact that this was started by social science faculty who immediately reached out to the library community for collaborators, is a big part of why I find this whole endeavor so promising. This isn’t one of those “build it and they 1 will come” archives. This is a “they built it and want us to partner with them” archives.

But a funny thing happened on the way to open social science. When SocArXiv did a soft launch on the OSF platform, I uploaded a few of my own papers. I posted an OA article from Code4Lib that I wrote with Bess Sadler (Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery). I also posted an unpublished manuscript (Bowling with Veterans) that I had submitted to a top-tier sociology journal in 2000 or 2001. It got rejected back then, but in a very gentle and helpful way.  I got 2 incredibly supportive and helpful reviews, and a letter from the editor with strong encouragement to submit to a more specialized journal (military sociology is still not very popular in mainstream sociology). I revised it some, but then abandoned it to finish my dissertation. It’s a good paper, and I was happy to finally have somewhere to put it.

But the really interesting thing is what happened when I published my 2003 dissertation (Gender Mistakes and Inequality) on SocArXiv.

It got read. A lot.

In fact, it has been downloaded 160 times so far,2 making it the most dowloaded paper on SocArXiv right now. Before SocArXiv, I’m not sure anyone outside my committee and a few generous colleagues had read it.3 It has been cited once, albeit by a colleague who was just a year or two behind me in graduate school, so it was pretty easy for her to discovery it.

I actually like my dissertation, and I used to wish I had gotten it published in the traditional way some time closer to when I finished it. But I was a year into my new career in academic libraries by the time I finished the dang thing, and I just never did find the time or energy to revise it to make it suitable for journal submission. But lo these many years later, my dissertation has found her readers. 4

Aside from the ego boost, I actually think this is a great example of the power and usefulness of open access archives. I hope those folks who have downloaded it find useful ideas to build on in it. That was really all I ever wanted–for my dissertation to be useful. But to be useful, it needed to be read; and to be read, it apparently needed SocArXiv.


  1. “They” being shorthand for faculty, who we are often told don’t want OA, or don’t care. Obviously some don’t; but some do. Coalition of the willing and all that.
  2. I know reading and downloading aren’t the same. Whatever.
  3. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t “peer reviewed”. It was reviewed by an all-star committee (Ridgeway, Tuma, Olzak, Jost). Karen Cook and Shelley Correll also read drafts and gave me feedback.
  4. Why yes, I am invoking Ranganathan
  5. And yes, I did just gender my dissertation. But I might be mistaken.

Shameless self-promotion of publications, presentations, and unpublished manuscripts

I decided I needed a place to keep track of my publications, presentations, and unpublished manuscripts, so I added the Publications and Presentations page now linked at the top of this blog.

A second, but important, motivation is to provide access to the full-text of some unpublished manuscripts, including my dissertation Gender Mistakes & Inequality. I also included an unpublished paper I wrote about civilian husbands of military women for a graduate school class back in 1994. I still get an occassional request for a copy of that paper, and it has actually been cited a few times in published books and articles. I guess it pays to be the first to write about something, and to have had an awesome advisor who continues to tell anyone writing about military women with civilian husbands that I wrote about the topic way back when.

I actually think one of my best papers is an unpublished and (so far) uncited paper with the clever title: Bowling with veterans: The impact of military service on subsequent civic engagement. I wrote it for a graduate methods course at Stanford, and submitted it to American Journal of Sociology back in 2001. I actually got a very kind and very helpful rejection from AJS. I worked on it a bit more and was thinking about submitting it somewhere else, but then I then I got a full time gig at the Stanford Libraries and I just never could find the time to get back to it.

Does posting these old unpublished manuscripts online here count as self-publishing? I wonder if putting them online will have any affect on citations? At any rate, I’m not likely to be writing any more military sociology papers, but I do now have a place to put future presentations so I can find them again.

Social Science on steroids

The next big (and I do mean BIG) thing in the social sciences is Computational Social Science (PDF, Science, Vol 323, 6 February 2009; subscription required). As human interaction increasingly occurs “in the network”, we are creating massive amounts of data tracing human interaction and behavior. The Science article asks and answers the question: “What value might a computational social science—based in an open academic environment—offer society, by enhancing understanding of individuals and collectives?”

My interest is in “How might libraries and librarians facilitate the development of a robust field of computational social science, within our own institutions and across the academy?”

I often have a vague uneasiness that social sciences get left out of discussions about the future of libraries, and digital libraries in particular. The “hard” sciences get plenty of attention, as they tend to be the first to move towards adoption of digital content and delivery. The humanities get plenty of attention for developments in digital humanities. As computational social science develops, libraries ought to be paying attention and participating.

One logical role for libraries is in the area of data curation. One challenge identified in the Science article is the fact that “existing data sets are scattered among many groups, with uneven skills and understanding of data security and widely varying protocols.” Libraries would provide a logical site for the trusted preservation of these kind of data, and for developing and implementing the necessary privacy protections.

Some examples of emerging centers for computational social science include:
Center for Social Complexity, George Mason University
UCLA Center for Human Complex Systems (aka Computational Social Science)

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Twitter and strength of weak ties

I’ve written before about Facebook and the strength of weak ties, and I think Michael Clarke’s The Strength of Weak Ties: Why Twitter Matters in Scholarly Communication is right on.
The key part of the post is where he talks about how Twitter differs from other social networking sites/tools:

Twitter, however, diverges from this model in 3 important ways:

1. Followers not friends. On Twitter, your status update is sent to your “followers” … When you first start using Twitter, your followers are typically people you know personally…But then a curious thing happens: other people—often complete strangers—become followers based on the content of your status updates.
2. Content not relationships. You develop followers on Twitter in large part based on what you have to say. If your posts are interesting to other people, they will follow you…
3. Open not closed. On Twitter, status updates are visible to everyone. I can perform searches on Twitter … Moreover, retweeting (reposting) other people’s messages is a common practice on Twitter. .. Additionally, the use of hash tags to indicate content is related to a particular topic or event can result in further dissemination of one’s posts. Using these mechanisms, posts on Twitter can circulate in surprising ways.

Clarke rightly notes that Twitter’s networking advantages are best described by the work of Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, whose seminal AJS article “The Strength of Weak Ties” anticipated the effects of online social networking by three decades.

In his subsequent book Getting a Job, Granovetter demonstrates that our “weak ties” are more valuable than “strong ties” for leading us to important outcomes like getting a job, finding a mate, etc. Our strong ties tend not to be particularly diverse in ways that are valuable for leading us to the kinds of new, unique leads that connect us to job opportunities and the like.

For me, Twitter has expanded and exposed my “weak ties” and exposed me to a more diverse set of people, who provide me a more diverse set of information on a daily basis than my “strong ties” could possibly do.

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Journalist discovers sociology

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is one of the Three Books being read by incoming Stanford students this year. I volunteered to lead one of the discussion groups, so I finally got around to reading it.
My snarky, one sentence review/summary would be: “Journalist discovers sociology; argues by anecdote anyway.”

I’m not the only one who isn’t overly impressed with Gladwell, as Stephen Kotkin of the NY Times describes Outliers as “like a sumptuous Chinese meal that an hour later leaves a diner feeling hungry.”

On the one hand, I guess I am pleased that incoming Stanford students will get exposed to a Sociological Imagination:

C. Wright Mills:
…the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and gauge his own fate only by locating himself within his period, that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances (p. 5).

Malcolm Gladwell:
It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine (p. 19).

On the other hand, I would hate for incoming Stanford students to think that Gladwell’s standards of evidence are the standards of evidence used by real social scientists. Or that sociological theory is no more sophisticated than Gladwell’s pithy, but simplistic thesis.

Perhaps the best discussion point I can bring to my group of students will be something like:
“If you liked Gladwell’s book, and are intrigued by the idea that individual choices and achievements are heavily influenced by our social settings; then you should definitely take some classes from Stanford’s world class Sociology department and find out how social science is done in the big leagues.”

The more I think about it, my real beef is less with the Gladwell book itself, and with the Stanford Three Books committee for selecting it. If you want to pick a book with a sociological focus, why not pick one written by a sociologist? How about the 2007 ASA Book Award winner, The Chosen, which “tells the story of admissions policies and practices in America’s elite colleges over the full length of the twentieth century”? Or Working-class white : the making and unmaking of race relations by Stanford’s own Monica McDermott?

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