15 posts categorized "Colby King"

March 18, 2019

Social Infrastructure, Postlandia, and Shared Investment in Public Space

author photoBy Colby King

Each day, it seems, we see new controversies that highlight how we (intentionally or not) misunderstand each other. These controversies regularly lament the decline of public life in our society. You are likely familiar with these laments: We gather news inside our own bubbles. Our neighborhoods, schools, and social activities are increasingly segregated by race, class, or other social groups. Our political views are polarized, and “the discourse” of online discussion further polarizes us.

Last year, sociologist Eric Klinenberg published a book in which he suggests one solution to these dilemmas is social infrastructure. The book Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure can help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life takes on an ambitious agenda for social infrastructure.

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February 19, 2019

Why College Costs Keep Climbing

author photoBy Irina Seceleanu, Colby King, Maria Hegbloom

Irina Seceleanu is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Bridgewater State University and the BSU Chapter Vice-President of the faculty union—Massachusetts State College Association. Maria Hegbloom is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Bridgewater State University and the BSU Chapter President of the faculty union—Massachusetts State College Association.

Growing up, we heard a lot about how school would be easier for either of us than it was for our parents and grandparents. “These days,” they’d say, “kids have it easy. The teachers are great, the schools have resources. When I was your age, I had to walk to school, in snow, uphill both ways!”

Maybe you’ve heard similar things about college today? Your campus likely has fantastic professors, maybe a few new buildings, and plenty of student services. If you’re at a public institution, especially a regional comprehensive university like Bridgewater State University (BSU) in Massachussetts that is known for small class sizes, teaching-focused professors, and lower tuition costs, you might also note the relatively affordable price compared to other nearby institutions.

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February 18, 2019

Furnace, Kiln, and Oven Operators in the American Community Survey

Colby (1)By Colby King

In one of my research projects, I’m examining shifts in employment by occupational categories in the Detroit and Pittsburgh region. One result of my work is that I’ve become much more familiar with the 1990 Census Bureau occupational classification scheme.

The occupational categories that respondents are placed into are fairly detailed. Specific categories exist for locksmiths and safe repairers (code 536), railroad conductors and yardmasters (code 823), payroll and timekeeping clerks (code 338), funeral directors (code 019), and even sociology instructors (code 125, under Teachers, Postsecondary). Examining the characteristics of workers in particular occupation categories can illustrate the structure of their labor market, and the information can help develop a sociological imagination.

The category that recently caught my eye, is “furnace, kiln, and oven operators, apart from food (code 766),” because working around kilns and furnaces has become a tradition in my family.

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January 21, 2019

Online Media Dystopia

Colby (1)By Colby King

Concerned about online misinformation and fake news, I made a few revisions to the syllabi for my Introduction to Sociology courses before the start of the semester this past fall. I created an information literacy assignment based on the ongoing debate about the “marshmallow test.” But, I also made space to discuss Zeynep Tufekci’s research, particularly her analyses of how digital platforms and their algorithms shape how we collect information, share ideas, and interact with each other. Many students responded enthusiastically to these topics. And, while most were not surprised by the various concerning issues that Tufekci raises about digital platforms, many did report that understanding her research was causing them to reconsider the ways in which they engage online.

Zeynep Tufekci is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina in the School of Information and Library Science with an affiliate position in UNC’s Department of Sociology. Her book Twitter and Tear Gas, provides a vivid analysis of the ways in which social media supported social movements including the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, while also describing the challenges created by these same platforms.

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November 19, 2018

Taking Sociology to the Circus

Colby (1)By Colby King

Did you know that before any U.S. city had a system of electric street lighting, Americans could see electric lighting at the circus? In 1878, James Bailey lit his circus with electricity, and as a result a large proportion of American saw electricity for the first time at the circus. Bailey even sold tickets for tours of the generator.

I learned this and a lot more from the recently aired documentary The Circus, from American Experience and PBS. The documentary illustrates the vibrant and problematic history of the circus, and underscored how the traveling circuses of the late 1800s and early 1900s were a quintessential part of U.S. society.

As someone who studies urban sociology, I was struck by the ways in which the circus functioned as a sort of traveling city. The film quotes one attendee describing the circus as:

a city that folds itself up like an umbrella. Quietly and swiftly every night it… [picks] up in its magician’s arms theatre, hotel, schoolroom, barracks, home, whisking them all miles away, and setting them down before sunrise in a new place.

Just as cities of the industrial era brought new patterns of social life, the circus brought culture and diversity, opportunities, and exploitation to the places it visited.

Continue reading "Taking Sociology to the Circus" »

August 20, 2018

Social Networks and Diversity in College

Colby (1)By Colby King

With the beginning of another fall semester, I have been thinking about the opportunities college presents to students. If you are a student who is working to make the most of your opportunities on campus, you may very reasonably be focused on earning good grades, or on avoiding accumulating much loan debt. But, I want to underscore a particular opportunity that college presents to students that I hope you do not overlook: the opportunity build a diverse social network.

I have been thinking about these issues because last spring, I was chosen as the recipient of Bridgewater State University’s Honors Outstanding Faculty Award. This was a really nice honor, and as part of the award I was interviewed for the Honors Program student blog, The Paw. In that interview I was asked about what advice I might have for students. I drew on my responses in that interview, and the speech I gave for that award in writing this essay. You can see the whole interview on the blog here.

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March 19, 2018

Managing Malls and Regional Spatial Change in the Era of Amazon Prime

Colby (1)By Colby King

If you’re looking for an entertaining way to spend a few minutes, I recommend the American Mall Game on Bloomberg’s website. The game appeared on February 7, 2018, and was created by James Pants and Steph Davidson, along with a team of others at Bloomberg.

As a player in the American Mall Game, you take the position of a character who owns and manages a mall that has fallen on difficult times. An opening message at the start of the game explains that these are “dire times for U.S. Mall owners. Decades of overbuilding and the invention of online shopping combined to leave the country with an extreme excess” [of retail space].

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February 05, 2018

The Big Rig and the Sociology of Work

Colby (1)By Colby King

I teach a Sociology of Work course at Bridgewater State University that meets in the evening each fall. At BSU, about half of our students come from working class backgrounds and/or are among the first generation in their family to go to college. One of the reasons I have really enjoyed teaching evening sections of this class is that many of the students typically work off campus and the class is often infused with their work experiences. These students also express a practical interest in the dynamics of labor markets, the shape of organizations, and the quality of jobs in addition to their interest in sociological concepts related to work.

This fall, I added Steve Viscelli’s book The Big Rig to the material we used in this class. I was motivated in part because it is a large and dynamic industry that illustrates many of the concepts and concerns we cover in this class. About 3 million people work as truck drivers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. NPR’s Planet Money has created this interactive map showing how truck driver has been the most common job in many states since at least the 1970s. The American Trucking Associations found that in 2014 more than 7 million people were employed in jobs related to the trucking industry, even after excluding those who were self-employed. They also report that registered trucks drove 279.1 billion miles in 2014.

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January 04, 2018

New Semester Rulin’s

Colby (1)By Colby King

What are your resolutions for the New Year? How about for the new semester?

I was thinking about these questions myself after a friend shared with me Woody Guthrie’s “New Years Rulin’s,” which he wrote in his journal in 1943.

If you’re not sure who Woody Guthrie is, you’d likely recognize his most famous song “This Land is Your Land.” Known as the “People’s Bard,” Guthrie is something of a hero among working people and labor activists. He has had a substantial musical legacy, influencing artists from The Byrds and Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, and Tom Morello. If you’re not familiar with his music, you may want to listen to his song about the dust bowl, “Pastures of Plenty,” or his punchy song about union solidarity “Union Maid,” which is covered here by Old Crow Medicine Show live at the Kennedy Center.

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December 04, 2017

#followfirstgenerationacademics

Colby (1)By Colby King

Scrolling through my Twitter feed one day this past summer, I read a tweet from Karra Shimabukuro, a PhD candidate in British and Irish Literary Studies at the University of New Mexico, with the hashtag #followfirstgenerationacademics. The tweet was signal boosting the hashtag, which was originated by Roberta Magnani, a Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at Swansea University.

The idea behind #followfirstgenerationacademics was to create connections between academics and students between academics and students, who are from the first generation in their family to work as an academic. As a first generation academic myself, I was happy to see the hashtag. I replied to a few tweets and followed many of the people participating in the discussion. If you are a student or an academic interested in connecting, you may also be interested in following that hashtag and contributing to the conversation.

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