Once again it’s time for monthly highlights from SocArXiv, aka Stuff Beth Thought Was Interesting. This month we’ve got an eclectic set of papers with no unifying theme, other than being uploaded to SocArXiv in the last month. As usual, I remind you that SocArXiv papers are not necessarily peer-reviewed, so use judgment when you read.
In the craziness of political life these days, disasters fall off the radar way too quickly. But we still don’t know how many people died in Puerto Rico as a result of the hurricane last fall. The official death toll is still 64. But a number of scholars have been working to provide better estimates of the real impact of the tragedy. Another widely reported estimate, based on house-to-house survey data, produced a figure of 4600. Now this paper by Santos-Lozada, comparing death records from last year to historical averages for the three-month period following the hurricane, suggests a number around 900. Debate over the true number will continue, but this is a great example of the kind of paper that needs to get out there quickly, rather than lingering hidden in peer review.
Well, this is right up my alley. A large and growing literature examines how states make populations “legible” through censuses, mapmaking, data collection and so on. But it’s also clear that states use ambiguity—in laws, definitions, policies—in productive ways. This paper uses the historical case of the U.S. colonization of the Philippines to show how the institutionalization of ambiguity can resolve imperial conflicts. After the U.S. took the Philippines in the Spanish-American War, debates about what their status should be—a colony? an eventual U.S. state?—were resolved by creating ambiguous categories: the territory would be “foreign in a domestic sense” (according to the Supreme Court), and their residents neither citizens nor aliens. The paper goes on to explore how this institutionalized ambiguity helped the U.S. resolve competing, and contradictory, demands that it remain true to the Constitution while presenting Filipinos, perceived as racially inferior, from accessing the rights of citizens.
Addendum: I just noticed this paper just won the grad student paper award in political sociology, and an honorable mention for the comparative-historical grad award. See, I have good taste!
How do we understand inequality? This interesting theoretical paper argues that if people’s informal theories of inequality shape their political views, we need to take more seriously the task of understanding where those theories come from. The paper suggests we do that by conceptualizing inequality beliefs as inference problems – that ordinary people look for theories that explain their everyday experiences and observations of inequality. Personally, I wouldn’t discount the extent to which we learn our theories explicitly from those around us, as well as inferring them from experience, but this is still an intriguing way to conceptualize a challenging problem.
Stuart Geiger, Charlotte Mazel-Cabasse, Chihoko Cullens, Laura Norén, Brittany Fiore-Gartland, Diya Das, and Henry Brady
Ready to ditch sociology entirely? How about a career in the growing field of data science? This report on three major data science institutes—at Berkeley, NYU, and the University of Washington—explains what data science is, what academic data scientists do, and presents interesting interview data on the career paths of early-career data scientists. If you think you might be a data scientist, or would like to be, this report is definitely worth a read.
Okay, that’s it for this month’s SocArXiv update. If you’re in the northeastern U.S., hope you’re staying cool.