Saturday, August 8, 2009

ASA Day 2

I heard so many interesting ideas today that I'm not quite sure where to start. The first paper I heard this morning was one presented by Kate Cagney looking at neighborhood effects in Dallas. Using GIS mapping software and a dataset of health information, she was able to discern that people living in neighborhoods in which there was a spike in crime activity in one year also experienced a rise in blood pressure. I think the larger implication is that living in dangerous and stressful situations -- which tend to be concentrated in low-income neighborhoods -- have many ramifications. While higher blood pressure may not directly impact school performance, it may be part of larger set of reactions that do.

Robert Sampson also presented compelling research on moves that people and families make. Every single change of address of a sample of around 5,000 people living in Chicago was tracked over a number of years. Unsurprisingly, those who moved to the suburbs tended to earn more a few years ago, home owners were less likely to move, and whites were the most likely to move out of the city. But the main argument in the presentation was that moves aren't just a result of neighborhood characteristics -- that moves are a characteristic of a neighborhood. For example, increases in the number of hispanic and black residents in a neighborhood led more white people to move out of a neighborhood which, subsequently, led to a more racially concentrated neighborhood.

I won't go into the myriad of other presentations I saw, but I will say that we had quite an interesting discussion of blogs in academia. I got to meet the fantastic people that run Sociological Images and Thick Culture and, following yesterday's conversation I was more than eager to hear what others had to say. While there was consensus that unrelated blogs (e.g. photos of your cat) shouldn't count toward academics, I think we also agreed that it shouldn't be a strike against you -- just like having a kid or a pet. Some people at the table reported that some colleges encourage faculty blogging and outreach while others felt that it was definitely discouraged and that having a blog can make one appear to be a less than serious academic. But us younger folk around the table were somewhat mystified as to why some senior scholars seem to have a chip on their shoulder regarding blogging in particular. More than one person seemed to think that blogging threatened faculty (young and old alike) because it broke their monopoly on knowledge. Similarly, some seemed to think that the system as it is now (journal submissions bring prestige, fund conferences, and earned older scholars tenure) is simply too familiar and comfortable -- and that if everybody blogged these institutions would cease to exist. Maybe these are part of the reason, or maybe there are others. Either way, I have yet to hear a good reason why grad students and faculty should refrain from blogging and other forms of community outreach (and, no, I don't consider "it'll make it harder to earn tenure" a good reason).

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