The featured publications of Harvard Sociology include a selection of significant books, articles, and working papers published by our faculty. We invite you to visit individual faculty websites for more complete listings of publications.
Samson, Frank L, and Lawrence D Bobo. In Press.“Ethno-Racial Attitudes and Social Inequality”. in The Handbook of the Social Psychology of Inequality, edited by Jane D McLeod, Edward J Lawler, and Michael Schwalbe. New York, NY: Springer.
The Cultural Matrix seeks to unravel a uniquely American paradox: the socioeconomic crisis, segregation, and social isolation of disadvantaged black youth, on the one hand, and their extraordinary integration and prominence in popular culture on the other. Despite school dropout rates over 40 percent, a third spending time in prison, chronic unemployment, and endemic violence, black youth are among the most vibrant creators of popular culture in the world. They also espouse several deeply-held American values. To understand this conundrum, the authors bring culture back to the forefront of explanation, while avoiding the theoretical errors of earlier culture-of-poverty approaches and the causal timidity and special pleading of more recent ones.
I present a brief review of problems in the sociological study of culture, followed by an integrated, interdisciplinary view of culture that eschews extreme contextualism and other orthodoxies. Culture is defined as the conjugate product of two reciprocal, componential processes. The first is a dynamically stable process of collectively made, reproduced, and unevenly shared knowledge structures that are informational and meaningful, internally embodied, and externally represented and that provide predictability, coordination equilibria, continuity, and meaning in human actions and interactions. The second is a pragmatic component of culture that grounds the first, and it has its own rules of usage and a pragmatically derived structure of practical knowledge. I also offer an account of change and draw on knowledge activation theory in exploring the microdynamics of cultural practice and propose the concept of cultural configuration as a better way of studying cultural practice in highly heterogeneous modern societies where people shift between multiple, overlapping configurations.
Despite repeated pledges by China's leaders to reduce the gap between rich and poor, income inequality has continued to rise. China's Gini coefficient, a standard measure of income inequality, was higher in 2007 than in the United States, Russia, or most other societies. Why have China's income gaps increased so fast and so far, despite programs designed to promote greater equality? Standard explanations, such as income gaps inevitably rising with rapid economic development or in a post-socialist transition, cannot explain the Chinese case. Paradoxically, the sharp rise in inequality is driven more by the legacy of China's socialist system than by market forces or the global economy. It will not be possible to bring China's soaring income gaps under control unless the new leaders who took power in 2012–2013 are able to make much more fundamental reforms than have been attempted to date.
This paper focuses on inequality trends in contemporary China and their implications for the motivations and productivity of ordinary Chinese citizens. Based upon this analysis, it is my contention that, at least regarding patterns of inequality and opportunity, China’s experience does not require us to abandon conventional formulas in favor of a new set of prescriptions for growth, whether a Beijing Consensus or otherwise. Instead we need to consider Chinese institutional arrangements today against the backdrop of the arrangements that prevailed in the last stages of China’s socialist planned economy. Viewed in this light, property rights and opportunity structures in China today might be viewed as sub-optimal rather than bad, but at the same time as vastly improved compared to the very poor institutions of the late-Mao era. I will draw on evidence from China national surveys colleagues and I carried out in 2004 and 2009, focusing on popular attitudes toward inequality in China and comparisons with other societies, to reinforce my claim that current opportunity structures in China are compatible with the kinds of high citizen motivations needed for economic development.
In this comment, we offer a nontechnical discussion of conventional (conditional) multivariate quantile regression, with an emphasis on the appropriate interpretation of results. We discuss its distinction from unconditional quantile regression, an analytic method that can be used to estimate varying associations between predictors and outcome at different points of the outcome distribution. We argue that the research question posed by Budig and Hodges (2010)—whether the motherhood penalty is larger for low-wage women—cannot be answered with the authors’ conditional quantile regression models. Using more appropriate unconditional quantile regression models, we find, in contrast to Budig and Hodges’s claims, that the motherhood penalty is not largest for low-wage women.
This paper provides a framework for understanding the ways in which social processes produce social inequality. Specifically, we focus on a particular type of social process that has received limited attention in the literature and in which inter-subjective meaning-making is central: cultural processes. Much of the literature on inequality has focused on the actions of dominant actors and institutions in gaining access to material and non-material resources, or on how ecological effects cause unequal access to material resources. In contrast, we focus on processes that contribute to the production (and reproduction) of inequality through the routine and taken-for-granted actions of both dominant and subordinate actors. We highlight two types of cultural processes: identification and rationalization. We describe and illustrate four processes that we consider to be significant analytical exemplars of these two types of cultural processes: racialization and stigmatization (for identification) and standardization and evaluation (for rationalization). We argue that attention to such cultural processes is critical and complementary to current explanations of social inequality.
Against the background of recent methodological debates pitting ethnography against interviewing, this paper offers a defense of the latter and argues for methodological pluralism and pragmatism and against methodological tribalism. Drawing on our own work and on other sources, we discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of interviewing, especially for work in the sociology of culture. We argue that concern over whether attitudes correspond to behavior is a misguided focus of the recent literature, and offer that we should instead consider what interviewing and other data gathering techniques are best suited for. In our own work, we suggest, we have used somewhat unusual interviewing techniques not to explore individuals’ characteristics, but to reveal how institutional systems and the construction of social categories, boundaries, and status hierarchies organize social experience. We also point to new methodological challenges ahead, particularly concerning the incorporation of historical and institutional dimensions into interview-based studies. We finally describe fruitful directions for future research, which may result in methodological advances while bringing together the strengths of various data collection techniques.
Researchers have paid increasing attention to the core discussion network, the set of friends and family people turn to when discussing important matters. For nearly thirty years, social network researchers have argued that the network is composed of ego’s closest or most important alters. This assumption, however, has not been tested empirically. Using original data on an online representative quota survey of 2000 respondents, I find that 45% of the core discussion network is composed of people whom respondents do not consider important to them. In fact, the core discussion network includes doctors, coworkers, spiritual leaders, and other alters whom ego confides in without feeling emotionally attached to. I examine what respondents consider important matters and why they approach weak ties to discuss these. Placing emphasis on the process through which ego mobilizes alters, I develop two theoretical perspectives, which focus on how people identify those appropriate to a topic and how they respond to opportunities in interactional contexts. Findings suggest that ego discusses important matters with non-close alters at times because they are known to be knowledgeable (targeted mobilization) and at times because they are available when important issues arise (opportune mobilization). Results suggest that recent findings about changes in the core discussion network of Americans are consistent with several different possibilities about the nature of strong ties, including those in which there has been no change at all.
This article examines changes in workers’ work values for the period 1973–2006 using General Social Survey data. We assess the relative importance that workers assign to high income, as opposed to security, advancement, short hours and “importance and sense of accomplishment.” The latter ranked highest throughout this period, but the relative priority placed on income and job security generally increased. We suggest that the rising relative rankings of earnings and job security reflect growing job, employability, and economic insecurity that workers generally experienced during this period, making these job characteristics generally more difficult to attain. Groups most vulnerable to job, employability, and economic insecurity—such as less educated workers and blacks—were most apt to place high importance on income and security. Differences in rankings between men and women, blacks and nonblacks, and college and high school graduates remained fairly stable over this period.
Studies have found that participation in social movements has long-term consequences for individuals’ personal life choices and political beliefs. An important but understudied subject in this literature is the impact of past activism on political behavior in an institutional context. The entry of past activists into Korea’s National Assembly offers a unique opportunity to assess the continuing effects of movement participation in the context of institutional politics. Analyzing roll call data related to Korea’s participation in the Iraq War, we explore the relative effects of movement participation and institutional pressure after accounting for legislators’ current ideological positions. Results from regression analyses show that while party and ideology remain strong predictors of voting behavior, past participation in social movements continues to influence political action. This study extends the scope of research on the consequences of social movements by pointing to the impact of movement participation on political behavior in an institutional setting.
Married men’s wage premium is often attributed to within-household specialization: men can devote more effort to wage-earning when their wives assume responsibility for household labor. We provide a comprehensive evaluation of the specialization hypothesis, arguing that, if specialization causes the male marriage premium, married women should experience wage losses. Furthermore, specialization by married parents should augment the motherhood penalty and the fatherhood premium for married as compared to unmarried parents. Using fixed-effects models and data from the NLSY79, we estimate within-gender differences in wages according to marital status and between-gender differences in the associations between marital status and wages. We then test whether specialization on time use, job traits, and tenure accounts for the observed associations. Results for women do not support the specialization hypothesis. Childless men and women both receive a marriage premium. Marriage augments the fatherhood premium but not the motherhood penalty. Changes in own and spousal employment hours, job traits, and tenure appear to benefit both married men and women, although men benefit more. Marriage changes men’s labor market behavior in ways that augment wages, but these changes do not appear to occur at the expense of women’s wages.
Waging war has historically been an almost exclusively male endeavor, yet over the past several decades women have joined insurgent armies in significant and surprising numbers. Why do women become guerrilla insurgents? What experiences do they have in guerrilla armies? And what are the long-term repercussions of this participation for the women themselves and the societies in which they live?
Women in War answers these questions while providing a rare look at guerrilla life from the viewpoint of rank-and-file participants. Using data from 230 in-depth interviews with men and women guerrillas, guerrilla supporters, and non-participants in rural El Salvador, Women in War investigates why some women were able to channel their wartime actions into post-war gains, and how those patterns differ from the benefits that accrued to men. By accounting for these variations,Women in War helps resolve current, polarized debates about the effects of war on women, and by extension, develops our nascent understanding of the effects of women combatants on warfare, political violence, and gender systems.
Recent decades have witnessed a double movement within the field of crime control characterized by the prison boom and intensive policing, on the one hand, and widespread implementation of new approaches that assign policing responsibilities to non-police actors, on the other. The latter development has been accomplished by expansion of third-party policing policies; nuisance property ordinances, which sanction landlords for their tenants’ behavior, are among the most popular. This study, an analysis of every nuisance citation distributed in Milwaukee over a two-year period, is among the first to evaluate empirically the impact of coercive third-party policing on the urban poor. Properties in black neighborhoods disproportionately received citations, and those located in more integrated black neighborhoods had the highest likelihood of being deemed nuisances. Nearly a third of all citations were generated by domestic violence; most property owners abated this “nuisance” by evicting battered women. Landlords also took steps to discourage tenants from calling 911; over represented among callers, women were disproportionately affected by these measures. By looking beyond traditional policing, this study reveals previously unforeseen consequences of new crime control strategies for women from inner-city neighborhoods.
Past research that asserts a fatherhood wage premium often ignores the heterogeneity of fathering contexts. I expect fatherhood to produce wage gains for men if it prompts them to alter their behavior in ways that increase labor-market productivity. Identity theory predicts a larger productivity-based fatherhood premium when ties of biology, co-residence with the child, and marriage to the child’s mother reinforce one another, making fatherhood, and the role of financial provider in particular, salient, high in commitment, and clear. Employer discrimination against fathers in less normative family structures may also contribute to variation in the fatherhood premium. Using fixed-effects models and data from the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), I find that married, residential, biological fatherhood is associated with wage gains of about 4 percent, but unmarried residential fathers, nonresidential fathers, and stepfathers do not receive a fatherhood premium. Married residential fathers also receive no statistically significant wage premium when their wives work full-time. About 15 percent of the wage premium for married residential fathers can be explained by changes in human capital and job traits.