Graduate Student Colloquium Series

2021 Colloquium Series

Steven Teles (Johns Hopkins University), 2/9/2021, "The Future is Faction."

Almost every other democratic political system in the world features a large number of parties. Despite America's enormous diversity, we have only two. For most of American history, our substitute for multiple parties has been internal party factionalism—strong, organized groups within the parties that both contest for power over the party, while also cooperating with co-partisans for control of government. But over the last quarter-century, that factionalism has almost disappeared. This talk will argue that we are already seeing the first signs of a flowering of intra-party factions among both the Democrats and Republicans. This will change nearly everything about how American politics works, and may be the only effective route out of the cycle of toxic polarization

Davon Norris (OSU), 2/23/2021, "Embedding Racism: City Government Credit Ratings and the Institutionalization of Race in Markets"

How does racism and racial inequality manifest in contemporary markets? Historically, overt discrimination made the mechanisms generating racial inequality evident. However, this is not the case in the structural and "color-blind" era characteristic of the present moment as the material mechanisms that give rise to racial inequality often lack clear conceptualizations. Leveraging insights from the sociology of race and economic sociology, I highlight the ways that algorithmic ratings, rankings, and scores operate as key mechanisms institutionalizing racism in markets. Because these technical devices exclude race as a direct input, conceptualizations of racism rooted in overt discrimination are insufficient. Therefore, I adopt a perspective that outlines how ratings produce what scholars in the sociology of race refer to as an epistemology of racial ignorance. Specifically, I argue that while ratings and scores give a veneer of individualized objectivity, their actual inputs reflect decades of racial disadvantage. The use of such racialized inputs embeds historical racism in ratings allowing racial inequality to persist and escape cognition as seemingly race-neutral inputs "explain away" racial disparities. I demonstrate this argument using an original dataset to approximate the evaluative criteria used by a credit rating agency in rating city government creditworthiness. I show that cities with larger proportions of Black residents receive worse credit ratings when controlling for the non-racialized inputs in the rating agency's evaluative criteria. This racial disparity is only attenuated after the inclusion of the criterion median family income, which I argue is a fundamentally racialized input owing to the legacy of racism in the US. Empirically establishing this point provides key theoretical takeaways at the intersection of race and economic sociology as scores and ratings pervade more corners of social life and increasingly push up against the epistemological seams of how we understand and identify inequality.

Laura Garbes (Brown), 3/30/2021, "Their accent is just too much": Tracing the sonic color line in public radio production.

Linguistic ideologies in society shape what voices can and cannot pass as professional, trustworthy, or authoritative in public discourse. Often, these ideologies are raciolinguistic: in other words, the ways we talk about language may support the construction and maintenance of racial hierarchies in society. How does this process manifest in the public radio industry? In this talk, I analyze how voices are evaluated as (in)appropriate for broadcast in public radio stories. The talk will focus on two main points in the production process that disproportionately exclude voices marked as nonwhite: in sourcing stories and in voicing stories. These evaluations place a burden on public radio employees of color that seek to deviate from these exclusionary standards. Tracing this industry's production process reveals the sonic color line at work in evaluating voices as (in)appropriate for the airwaves.

Amy Binder (UCSD) and Jeff Kidder (NIU), 4/22/2021, "The Conservative and Progressive Channels of Student Activism."

In our forthcoming book, The Channels of Student Activism: How the Left and Right Are Winning (and Losing) in Campus Politics Today, we study how politically engaged college students from the left, right, and center are making sense of this particular moment in American history. We take a culturally informed organizational approach to our research, and find two distinct forms of collegiate mobilization, or what we call two channels of student activism. Both channels have particular institutional advantages but both also suffer from opposing disadvantages. Progressives are embedded within their schools. They receive significant support on campus and they generally think that their politics are in the swim of the cultural ethos with faculty, administrators, and their classmates. But progressive student activists—particularly students of color and leftists—can become disillusioned with the existing arrangements inside their universities and toward outside organizations that offer little aid to their efforts. Conservatives, on the other hand, function as an outside insurgency. They are not in the political majority on campus, and they feel isolated and unsupported. Yet while conservatives lack the same levels of institutional influence, they compensate by tapping into a powerful external ecosystem that grants considerable resources for activism on the right. In this talk, we will describe how the two channels work and what we see as the downstream effects of being mobilized in these two very different ways.

Luis Flores (Univ Michigan), 5/11/2021, "Frontier Domesticity and the Municipal Separation of Spheres"

An instrument of wealth accumulation and racial exclusion in housing markets, the intersections between land-use zoning and labor dynamics are often overlooked. This paper recovers the frontier origins of American land-use zoning to examine its relation to labor market transformation, empire, and gender ideology. Through licensing, commodity regulations, and land-use, cities played a central role in the 19th-century "separation of spheres," delineating between domains for domestic versus market life. This separation instituted gendered and racialized distinctions between market/non-market, formal/informal, licit/illicit economic activity. Employing historical methods, this paper explains the puzzling first case of citywide land-use zoning in the United States in Los Angeles. Drawing white settlers as a haven for health and economic independence, Los Angeles settlers articulated a frontier domesticity that conditioned reactions against perceived industrial, labor, and racial threats, spurring municipal regulatory experimentation ahead of eastern industrial centers. Examining the institutional separation of spheres allows us to appreciate the contemporary blurring of home and market, as cities consider mixed-use zoning, cottage food laws, and independent contracting rules.