About Me

Currently a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, I study urban sociology and inequality. Originally from Western Pennsylvania, I am particularly interested in how changes in regional economic structures effect stratification and mobility opportunities, particularly for the working class. I also participate in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Interesting Links, 8/30/11

Well, I have been busy.  A week in Las Vegas spent mostly conferencing, then coming back to campus and jumping straight into a very busy semester has meant less time for the blog than I might like.  But, I have still gathered up a few interesting links to share...

Here is a relatively thorough article about sociologists' reactions to having a conference in Las Vegas, along with some video.  While I was there, it was interesting listen to folks discuss and debate the city as a venue for an academic gathering.  Hanging out in Las Vegas certainly stimulated conversations about gender performance, conspicuous consumption, and inequality.

This would have been a fun way to tour around Las Vegas last week.

If someone writes that "academic blogging is an important new outlet for demonstrating impact," then they have got my attention.

Here are two stories about surprisingly positive things happening in U.S. cities.  First, the arenas recently built in Kansas City, MO and Tulsa, OK seem to be doing better than expected during the recession.  Next here is an article from Scientific American with Edward Glaeser writing about how some cities have bounced back from adversity, often by right-sizing, and others have not.  Though right-sizing might be a good idea, making it work isn't always easy.  While urban farming could be an important part of the right-sizing process, it can also lead to difficulties in local neighborhoods.

Speaking of the Midwest, how about a video showing US expansion through post offices? Manifest Destiny!

This fall I am teaching a Sociology of Childhood class. Sadly, child poverty is up in at least 38 states, and about 20% of America's juvenile population was living in poverty in 2009.  Meanwhile, the benefits available to severely disabled children are being scrutinized.

Just like the author of this blog, I am always learning something new about Pittsburgh, like the fact that Pittsburgh has a Bible Lands museum.

While we are on Pittsburgh, stories like this one, about a family moving to Pittsburgh after living in places like D.C. and Boston, and underscoring how much they feel like part of the community in Pittsburgh keep popping up on my radar.  Seems that Pittsburgh is a great location for family's that want to right-size their lifestyle. And the couple states that while Pittsburgh is "not perfect," they feel that "things are getting better" and that they believe "Pittsburgh will do better in the coming decades." Good stuff.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Du[a]ling Quotes #5, ASA 2011 Meeting Edition

Well, I just returned from Las Vegas where I attended the 2011 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. I thought for this set of du[a]ling quotes I would share two of my favorite comments I heard during the conference. Here they are:

"Questions are good things. Comments are welcome."
     - Diane Pike, beginning her opening discussion at the ASA Section on Teaching Learning Pre-Conference Workshop "The Best Teachers We Can Be: Learning Scholarly Teaching."

"We all have limitations, that is why we are here. ... Economists have more limitations."
     - Remark by a session presider, discussing "limitation" slides in presentations.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Interesting Links, 8/18/11

I am about to head to the airport, on my way to Las Vegas for the 2011 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting. I am participating in the Section on Teaching and Learning's Pre-Conference workshop and I am presenting a research paper.  This will be my first visit to Las Vegas, and my third ASA annual meeting. Very excited.

Here are some links before I go...

First a bit of an update: Here is a great reflection on the UK riots and the academic and media responses by a sociologist with working class roots who is originally from London.

Very interesting story on "social engineering," or a form of low-tech hacking, performed in front of a group of peers.

Scientific American just released an issue on cities. Good stuff.

Here are three sociology related links I found first on Twitter. The first is about inequality and let's you ask how well you are doing.  The next is a a suggestion from a sociology professor on how to turn Grandmother's "passing away" on exam day as a teaching moment.  Finally, as the tweet that linked to this story suggested, food deserts don't exist only in urban areas, they also exist in rural areas..

I am all about government efficiency, but I worry about what the future reduction in jobs and services from the Postal Service will mean for America.

Here is a fun story about how the Bat Signal came to shine over the city of Pittsburgh.  Also fun is the idea of a food fight between Detroit and Flint.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Du[a]ling Quotes #4 - Two perspectives on Race and Inequality

“What is commonly called ‘race relations’ does not consist of relationships among men who are genetically different” (54).
   -from Ethnic Stratification, Shibutani and Kwan, 1965.

“Communities such as Beltway ... remind us how class and inequality are at the center of many of the complex problems we often subsume under the category of race” (161).
   -from Working Class Heroes by Kefalas, 2003.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Paris of Appalachia - Book Reviews in 10 sentences or less, #1

This post will be the first in a series of 10-sentence-or-less book reviews on this blog.

The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-first Century by Brian O'Neill.

Raised in the suburbs of New York City the author, Brian O'Neill, has been a news reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for several years.  In this book he describes the culture and politics of Pittsburgh as an honest observer and participant and like any good Pittsburgher he is quick with both praise and critiques.  This book is surprisingly broad in scope, discussing everything from O'Neill's habit of visiting random bars and barber shops to get to know the locals, to the politics of township or city-county mergers, to the sports culture of the City of Champions, to old ladies making pierogies in church basements.  Defending his decision to live in a older downtown neighborhood, he shrugs off a mugging he experienced, suggesting it was only as serious as a fender bender he could have experienced in suburbia if he lived there instead, and then he describes the virtues of accidentally locking yourself out of your house as an excuse to spend an evening visiting with neighbors.  He discusses the Pittsburgh diaspora and then relates specific stories of individuals moving back to a region that has seen so much population loss, concluding that "Life is too short to spend it someplace you no longer want to be" (108).  Moving from vivid ethnography in the first half of the book, to an on-the-ground analysis of the the political and economic difficulties the city continues to struggle with, O'Neill maintains an engaging tone, filled with substantial detail and a realistic assessment of the challenges the city faces.  The chapter on Pittsburgh sports culture is a appropriately rowdy, and the chapters on Pittsburgh's density and the landslide in Kilbuck are engaging for anyone interested in regional development, planning, or politics.  This is the most entertaining and interesting book I have read yet on the city of Pittsburgh.

Here is an interview with the author.  Here is the website for the book.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Interesting Links, 8/14/11

A few weeks ago the Pittsburgh Pirates lost a 19-inning game.  I stayed up late watching that game.  One of the most enjoyable parts of the experience was following other Pirates fans on Twitter, reading their reactions to the game.  Although I have had a twitter account for a couple of years I didn't begin using it regularly until about a month ago.  Because you can choose who you follow, and because there's a real limit to the links of posts, it can be a great resource for information and links.  So, I appreciated Pittsburgh sports reporter Joe Starkey relaying his experience of Twitter that night, which was similar to mine.  (I also owe a thank you to Twitter use @rtjr for helping me find the link weeks later.)

In addition to Pittsburgh sports coverage on Twitter, I have been following sociologists, organizations concerned with urban issues, and news outlets.  Since I began following these twitter users, it has been much easier for me to find  information and news stories that I am interested in.  Here are a few examples of things I found on Twitter first:

Sociologists have been weighing in on the riots in the UK.  Here is David Harvey.  Here is Sennett and Sassen.

Here is a blog with pictures of old mill towns in the southern New England.

Moving on, as I am preparing to teach Sociology of Childhood this fall, a friend suggested this link to me.  Incredible to see the contrasts across the different places children sleep across the world.

Speaking of all over the world, how about the last man on a mountain in West Virgina?
""Jimmy was the only thing standing between Arch Coal and probably some of the best reserves in this state," Lovett remembers. "There's no question they could have sold that land for a lot of money, but he and Sibby stood up to a mining company in a way that no one really had before and said, 'We're not leaving here and you can't make us.' "

Finally, ever since I was a child and my dad watched the show every weekend, I have been a fan of CBS Sunday Morning.  Their reports are not the most investigative, but often they are interesting and good conversation starters.  This morning I saw a story that encourages the viewer to consider if internships are opportunities or exploitation? While internships offer opportunities for many young people, what about those individuals who could use the opportunity an internship would provide, but cannot afford to work for free?  As this story underscores, it is often individuals from the wealthiest of backgrounds who are most able to take advantage of internship opportunities.

I also learned from this episode of CBS Sunday Morning that corporations have a lot of cash on hand.

Earlier this week, NPR decided to have some fun with stock brokers.  Good demonstration of the concept of emotional labor, I suppose.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Du[a]ling Quotes #3 - Justifying Inequality

“Social inequality is thus an unconsciously filled evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons” (243).
   - Davis and Moore in “Some Principles of Stratification,” 1945

“Deviations from economic equality must be shown to be beneficial, placing the burden of proof on those who advocate inequality” (32).
   - Lester Thurow in Generating Inequality, 1975.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Urban Excursions #2, Local Eats #3 - Rochester, NY

This post will be the second in the Urban Excursions series I am writing on this blog.  It will also be the third in the Local Eats Series on this blog.

First Impressions:

It may have been the overcast skies, but the city of Rochester seemed gloomy when I drove into town. My brother and I visited the city from about 1pm until 11pm on a weekday.  During our whole visit, it felt very rust belt.  The neighborhoods looked like flatter versions of the neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, and in some places the city seemed a lot like a smaller version of Cleveland, OH.  One interesting thing I did not expect, but noticed was that folks around Rochester seemed to have an accent sounded to me like a mix of Canadian without the "eh" and midwestern.  With just a few hours in the city, we had some adventures, tried some new food, and took a few pictures. Rochester was not a bad place to visit. Here is what I thought of it.

Places I Visited:

When we arrived in town, my brother and I were hungry.  So I searched on my smart phone for the "best burrito in Rochester" and at the top of the search results was Sol Burito.  We both got the Fajita Burrito. It was good. Probably not the best burrito I have ever had. But it was large, reasonably priced, and good.  The chips were fresh and crunchy, the salsa as good, and the Saranac Root Beer, which is apparently the ubiquitous drink in Rochester, washed everything down well.

After lunch we decided to stop at a place several folks recommended to us - the House of Guitars.  The place is a mess, has lots of good music and equipment in stock, and the folks were friendly. Very rock and roll and certainly worth a visit for any music fan.

My brother and I had traveled to Rochester planning to ride some of the mountain bike trails near the city.  Whenever we travel to a new place planning to ride the trails, we try to stop by a local bike shop to make sure we have the best info on the trails we are going to ride. Trevor was also having shifter problems, so he was hoping to have that looked at.  So, we stopped in at the Tryon Bike Shop. The shop seemed a bit high-end, situated in a what looked like an old bank building, with most of the bikes in the shop being very expensive.  The guys working at the shop that day, though, were very informative. They gave us clear directions toward the trails we wanted to ride. They also fixed up my brother's bike for a very reasonable price.

While visiting the shop we learned about their interesting business model.  Compared with most bike shops I have visited, they had much less inventory in stock in the shop. I asked them about this.  They explained that their goal was to be competitive with internet pricing on most bike-related items.  Like book stores competing with online book retailers, many bike shops are struggling to be competitive with internet prices.  Customers want the convenience of trying on bikes and clothing in person, and having a relationship with the mechanics at a local shop, but often internet prices on things like bicycle frames or helmet lights are so much lower it is hard for a frugal customer to support the local business.  Tryon Bike Shop's answer is to meet internet prices.  By keeping their inventory low, and explaining to their customers that they will meet most internet pricing, they encourage customers to use the store to purchase bike accessories, rather than internet retailers.  With their Wrench Club, they also offer customers who purchase a membership the ability to rent time, space, and tools in their repair shop, so the customers may repair their own bike themselves.  It's a new business model, and I am interested to see how well they continue to do. I certainly realize that many bike shops are looking for new ideas to stay relevant to their customers and competitive in the market.

After our stop in the bike shop we set out to ride two sets of trails - the Tryon Park Trail and the Irondequoit Bay Park West Trail.  The trail maps can be found here.  These trails were interesting.  First, they were close the city and surrounded by residential areas, and in the case of the Tryon Park, a highway on one side.  The trails were smooth, well-sculpted single track.  They were fun trails to ride.  They were clearly made for mountain bikers and predominantly used by mountain bikers.  If I lived here, this would obviously be a fun, convenient place to ride.  The Tryon Park trail, though, was a bit confusing.  It seems that the locals had built several alternate and overlapping trails around the main trail. My brother and I spent much of the afternoon stopping just to make sense of which direction the trails were going, and we had some difficulty finding our way around.  Also, in some of the lower areas, there was a strong sewage smell.  Another problem was the occasional shattered glass we saw on and along the trail.  I suppose this is something unavoidable in an urban trail, and thankfully neither of us got a flat tire.  Neither trail was very rocky, but we did encounter the occasional cement slab.  The Irondequoit Bay Park West Trail was less confusing and more fun.  Both sets of trails seemed to crowd a lot of mileage into small areas.  The Tryon Park trail also had a fun set of whoops that passed through a bowl at the top of a hill, too, which we had fun riding through.  Here are some pictures:

After several hours of riding, my brother and I wanted to get some food before we headed back to our campsite, an hour south of the city.  Driving around the city, I had noticed signs for places selling "hots" all over the city.  So, I went back to my phone, searching the internet for "best places to get hots in Rochester."  Reading the information that came up aloud, I said something about a garbage plate.  This triggered my brother's memory, and he recalled seeing an episode of some travel food show covering garbage plates in Rochester.  It seemed the most famous garbage plate restaurant closed early that night, so we ventured to place called Dogtown.  Located close the same place we got our burritos earlier in the day, Dogtown is a very relaxed establishment with some outside seating.  Below is an overexposed picture of my junkyard plate.  If you're not sure what you're seeing that is macaroni salad and home fries burried under a burger and a split hot dog, which is covered with chili, mustard, and onions.  It was delicious and awful at the same time.  I immediately wanted to eat it again while I simultaneously regretted eating it.  Again, a Saranac Rootbeer washed it down well.

Lasting Impressions:

Overall, the visit to Rochester was a good one. In less than 12 hours we had met cool folks at an interesting bike shop, saw the incredible House of Guitars, ate some cheap but good food, and ridden some new trails.  The city was gloomy, but we had fun exploring it.  Later in the day, we drove out toward Lake Ontario to give it a look, and that drive took us past the Kodak factory, which was incredibly industrial looking with pipes that seemed to go in every direction into and out of the building.  I expect winters would be particularly long, cold, and dark, and difficult here, as it seemed gloomy in the summer and it sits on a great lake.  The trails were fun, if a bit cramped and dirty, but they were good trails for an urban setting.  The people were friendly and helpful.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Interesting Links, 8/10/11

I have been travelling a lot recently, but have accumulated several interesting links the last couple of weeks. Let's get caught up a bit here...

Any effort involving bicycles, the rust belt, and art sounds cool to me. This one will be fun to follow.  Speaking of cool efforts, have you ever wondered about the color of your city?  And speaking of color, one assumes that greener cities are more pleasant to live in, but this article explains how a park helped stimulate private investment in Greenville, South Carolina.

Hosting the Olympics is an event that promises the host city a rebuilt infrastructure and a stimulated economy. Here is an article reflecting on the short and long term effects of hosting the Olympics in Atlanta, GA 15 years later.  Last year's ASA conference was in Atlanta, and I walked through the park.  It is nice.

Here are a couple of links about inequality. First, while the current economic situation may be a recession for whites, it has been effectively a depression for blacks and latinos.  Next, research by social scientist Dacher Keltner finds that lower class people are more empathetic, prosocial, and more compassionate than higher class folks.

Here are a few interesting articles on re-arranging, re-sizing, and re-purposing things in an urban context.  First, some folks are turning Hummers into Homes.  Next, there will be a lifesize boardgame at MoMA.  Finally, folks are repurposing empty shipping containers, turning them into retail stores and other business.

Finally, let's make a quick sports diversion - the Pittsburgh Pirates currently hold the record for the most consecutive losing seasons by a professional sports team in North America. They were playing very well this season, prompting NPR to ask Pittsburghers if the strong season would last.  Unfortunately, the Pirates went on a 10 game losing streak shortly after this story was published.