Friday, October 27, 2006

tales of academia! good ol' days of ethnography edition

Troy Duster's 2006 American Sociological Association presidential address (here)*, about which much could be said, contains the following passage in discussing the Chicago school of research:
According to the folklore, one of the most celebrated sociologists of the era got "caught with his pants down" in an up-close ethnography of prostitution; the university administration and the Chicago Tribune demanded that he be fired. This tale is a more colorful illustration of Chicago researchers' committment to studying deviance in its natural settings.
Does anyone know who this is about, and what the story is?

* Regarding my last post, one can read this address and get a sense of how many sociologists think about the seemliness of any kind of effort toward even modest constructively-minded engagement between sociology and genetics.

Update: Someone who would know confirmed for me that the person referred to is W.I. Thomas.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like W.I. Thomas. He was well known as a philanderer which contributed to his dismissal from the school. I have a collegue who studies the history of the discipline, I'll ask him.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to post twice... Thomas indeed included prostitutes in his studies of the unadjusted girl..

Of course this doesn't definitively prove that Thomas is the one Duster refers to. But Thomas was fired from Chicago after he was arrested for violating the Mann Act (an anti-prostitution measure). From Wikipedia:

Disaster struck when the FBI arrested Thomas under the Mann Act, which prohibits "interstate transport of females for immoral purposes", while in the company of one Mrs Granger, the wife of an army officer with the American forces in France. Some speculate that Thomas's arrest was an intrigue schemed by the FBI, which at that time was observing his wife Harriet for her pacifist activities. Although Thomas was acquitted of the charge in court, his career was irreversibly damaged.


Lars said...

Despite my better judgment, I'll bite.

What IS "modest constructively-minded engagement between sociology and genetics" anyway? I'm trying to be open-minded, I guess, but I don't even what to say. So, I guess I'll start here:

What benefit comes to sociology by considering genetics? Why genetics, why not, say the weather, or altitude? And what about other disciplines that are contentious in sociology, like literary criticism? Should sociology be open to all disciplines, or should we privilege some, like genetics, over others?

I'm trying hard not to be a twit or a jerk. I don't buy that sociology needs genetics, when it really needs sociology, in my mind. Nor do I think the genetically inclined are really that marginalized in sociology (but maybe that's a function of where I am). So, I'm trying to think of questions that would change my (and maybe others') mind.

jeremy said...

Lars: This is sort of what I am trying to think through, so I don't have a pithy answer for my blog. I am specifically thinking through the project of explanatory social science and questions about who attains some kind of biographical outcome through a series of interactions in society. There are now several thousand studies that might be interpreted as suggesting genetics has "something to do" with various biographical outcomes. Meanwhile, weather and altitude of residence do not offer up this challenge of thousands of published studies that provokes serious reflection, but perhaps one imagines this is just because these topics have not received as much attention. If only someone started an atmosociology section of ASA.

Lars said...

Thank you for taking the time to respond at all. I hope I didn't come across "totally jerky" or anything, I'd kinda like to understand this stuff. I know I'm inclined to just not read/listen to anything "genetic", but I'm trying. I think you're right, we (sociologists) do need a response to this research.

Anonymous said...

I think Van Maanen mentions this in Tales from the Field, but he doesn't name names.

Anonymous said...

Chicago has had its fair share of characters. Rumor also has it that Edward Shils was a CIA informant, keeping tabs on left-leaning colleagues (esp. in the UK, where he held a number of temporary appointments) and their "pro-communist" research activities.

Joe said...

I think genetics can be useful to social scientists. The goal of science is to understand and explain; to seek truth. Sociologists focus on social explanations for phenomena; geneticists focus on genetic/biological causes.
Sociologists don't want to discuss biology for ideological/political reasons. It's like we only want to know one aspect of the "truth".

For ex, virtually every criminological study finds that men are more violent than women (both thru official and self-report data). YES, gender socialization patterns explain much of this. But for us to pretend that social variables account for all the R-square of male/female differences in aggression and violence is a joke. Biologically, there are chemical differences between males and females. Certain chemicals (e.g., testosterone) influence aggression. On average, males have more of these chemicals in their bodies than females. Why is this so hard for people to accept? Talking about biology in my graduate level social theory class was like preaching gay marriage in a Southern Baptist Church - blasphemy! Any suggestion that innate physical differences exist between men and women was met with fierce opposition due to purely ideological reasons.

This is sad and disheartening. If we call our discipline a science, yet refuse to acknowledge empirical evidence that doesn't fit with what we want to believe about the world, what does this say???

jeremy said...

Corey: Thanks for the Thomas tip.

Corrie: Thanks for the Van Maanen tip.

Lars: No, you didn't come across as jerky.

Joe: I reject the definition of the different disciplines as being a matter of division of causes. That leads to wild impartiality in evaluating theories and other pathologies. Among sociologists, however, mine seems a minority view.

Anonymous said...

"I reject the definition of the different disciplines as being a matter of division of causes. That leads to wild impartiality in evaluating theories and other pathologies."

What do you mean by this, Jeremy?

Anonymous said...

Joe: Read the work of Stanford neurobiologist Sapolsky on testosterone -->agression. He, not a social scientist, shows that testosterone does not cause aggression. Instead, testosterone interacts with the social environment to exaggerate an effect that is already there, but only within a given social arrangement. A monkey injected with a massive dose of testosterone will beat the crap out of monkeys that are already below him in a dominance hierachy, but not touch those above him. Further, the effect goes the other way aggression ---> testosterone. That is , take 5 guys with the level of initial testosterone and have them play a competitive event. The more agressive guy, by the end, has higher testosterone levels.


Joe said...

I used testosterone as an example; I realize the importance of looking at the social context in order to better understand its effects. Good point.

But why then, in simple lab experiments, do rats injected with testosterone act more aggressively than rats injected with a placebo, or estrogen? Surely humans aren't rats, but genetically we're fairly similar.

I don't want to accuse you of cherry picking, but the work by Sapolsky...perhaps there are thousands of articles by others that show varying levels of certain brain chemicals correspond to varying levels of aggressive behavior. Why is it so hard to fathom that non-social things matter too?

Tom Volscho said...

Two of my favorite books concern the destruction of the "race" concept and the spurious genetic evidence purported to prove the existence of "races" both by Joseph Graves: The Emperor's New Clothes (2001) and The Race Myth (2004). He is an evolutionary biologist who studies the genetics of aging.

Anonymous said...

Joe--Sapolsky is summarizing the literature on this topic. He claims that it is well established that testosterone has a "permissive effect" --that is in exaggerates an effect that is there, rather than purely causing an effect. This is not to say that hormones don't matter, but that they matter within a given social arrangment and that the effect can go both ways, hormones ---> behavior and the reverse. The studies that you report, that show that rats injected with testosterone don't contradict his claim and they also don't establish that testosterone *causes* aggression. The point is that the relationship between the social and the biological is not a one way street. I am not endocrinologist but the studies Sapolsky summarizes (and there are many) seem very convincing.