Video Archive of American Sociological Association’s Plenary Sessions

The American Sociological Association is wrapping up its 110th Annual Meeting, which happened to be in Chicago this year.  In addition to all of the thematic sessions, round tables, and book fair, one of the best things that happens at ASA’s Meeting are the plenary talks.  These are usually longer talks (1 hour +) on big topics.  These talks offer a nice status update of the field, but also of the big players in the field.

This year, the theme of the meeting was Sexualities in the Social World- so the plenary talks were on Abortion in America, The Politics of Same Sex Marriage, Modern Romance, The Rise of Nonmarital Births, and Internet Dating. This could be a really useful tool for teaching big topics outside our research areas.  The really exciting thing is that ASA has an archive of talks going back to 2002.

Here are some of the more “accessible” talks:

An Evening with Malcom Gladwell from the 2014 Meeting with the theme Hard Times:The Impact of Economic Inequality on Families and Individuals.

Plenary Session: How is Inequality in the United States Changing? from the 2013 Meeting with the theme: Interrogating Inequality: Linking Micro and Macro.

Democracy from the 2012 Meeting with the theme Real Utopias: Emancipatory Projects, Institutional Designs, Possible Futures.

SKILLSHARE to Start Your Learning Journey

2700657102_1692d68fee_oI find it it sometimes daunting to learn a new skill.  In many cases, it is hard to know where to start.  Sometimes we get wrapped up in the desire for our efforts to be perfect, that we are paralyzed and fail to even start.

Think for a second about what it takes to learn a new skill.

1). Decide to learn skill X.

2). Figure out what you need in order to learn skill X.

3). Clear schedule for an indeterminate amount of time to learn skill X.

4). Put butt in chair to get down to practicing skill X.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 until either you have become an expert, or you get tired of learning new skill.  In many cases, the siren song of TwitterFacebookInstagramPeriscopeHuffPoSlateAtlanticGawkerJezebel gets in the way.  It is so much easier to wind down my kid’s bath time and bed time with an hour on the TwitterFacebookInstagramPeriscopeHuffPoSlateAtlanticGawkerJezebel than to think about learning a new skill.  But what if it were easier?  What if you could, with very little buy-in or allocation of time/resources start learning a skill?  What would you learn?

Author Josh Kaufman gave a TED talk in 2013 basically arguing that most people could learn to do most of the things they wanted to in 20 hours.

The premise is simple- figure out how to self-correct and spend most of the 20 hours practicing.  The problem with the way most of us in Academia learn to do something is by going to a workshop- where we are given an in-depth and uselessly detailed tour of Y Software Package/Statistical Technique/Dataset that is essentially a fire hose of information.  We do this for 2-5 days and return to our lives, some of us never going back to that information again, until we are forced by some circumstance (usually a student needing help).

What if you could do brief introductions to new skills?  Something during a long train or plane ride?  Or during lunch one week?

I would like to introduce you to SKILLSHARE. a subscription based service were people who know teach people who don’t.  You might remember last year when there was quite the hullabaloo over a SKILLSHARE class that Actor James Franco conducted called, “Introduction to Screenwriting for Short Films“.  The classes are typically, a series of self-paced videos and projects where you apply concepts discussed in the videos to your own work, which is actually quite useful if you’re trying to learn a new skill in 20 hours.  Luckily, not all the classes are with James Franco- or other weird semi-famous actors in their 30s who can’t quite decide if they are going to be an actor or a student or an actor or a student.  But that is neither here nor there.

On SKILLSHARE, you can learn a lot of different skills, ranging from Hand lettering to CSS and App Design.  There are also classes on Jewelry Making and the Perfect Southern Fried Chicken and Biscuits.  The classes tend to be a couple of hours long- although some are longer and some are shorter.    I spent some time exploring this week and found a couple that would be useful for people who work with data and have been frustrated with the options for visualizing it.  The best part- is that you can view the videos/course content on mobile devices.  So it is possible to learn said new skill whle sitting on the floor of your bathroom while a little one splashes away in the tub, oblivious to your presence.  You can buy annual subscriptions or monthly ones (for $9.95).  Or you can try it for free for a month.

Some classes that might be useful for researchers (and their descriptions):

Introduction to Data Visualization: Every corner of the Internet is filled with data visualizations, but where do they come from? And why do we find them so appealing? In this Skillshare class, we’ll walk through an expert’s process to reveal how these complex images come to life.  Data visualization is the perfect way to use graphic design to tell complex stories. We’ll cover everything from researching and collecting data to creating a layout architecture and adding style to your work. No matter your background, you’ll learn how to better understand, appreciate, and interpret these images. Those with design backgrounds and experience with Illustrator will also be able to create their own large-scale visual representation of an inspiring taxonomy, timeline, or concept.

Beginning Infographics: Information Driven Storytelling: Infographics are an amazing way to share new & interesting information with friends & audiences all over. It’s the reason why we see them so often—they are a great tool for distilling really complex ideas down into easily digestible stories.  Whether you’re an experienced designer with a desire to experiment with data, an ambitious student interested in seeing how we work on client projects, or maybe even a non-creative who wants to get some tips on how to better communicate information to their audience—we’re here to help you through your own personal journey.

Data Visualization: Designing Maps with Processing and Illustrator: Join Nicholas Felton – author of the Felton Annual Reports, one of the lead designers of Facebook’s timeline, and co-founder of Daytum – to explore the with data and design. This 90-minute class walks through the process of investigating a large amount of data, using Processing to project onto a map, and polishing the visual appearance in Illustrator. It’s a great introduction to Processing and provides a data set for you to get started with right away, making this class perfect for anyone interested in design, data, geometry, or minimalism. Follow your curiosity and become fluent in presenting the data surrounding us every day.

Which Commuters of the Largest U.S. Cities Use the Greenest Mode of Transportation to Work?

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, New York City (population 8.2 million), with one of the best subway systems in the world, ranked greenest mode of work transportation among the four biggest cities in the U.S mainly for its extensive subway system. Almost three-quarters of NYC’s commuters (72.7%) took public transportation, biked or walked to work, or worked from home. Less than one-quarter (22.4%) drove alone to work.

Only one-third of the commuters in third-biggest Chicago (2.7 million) chose public transportation to get to work. A half drove alone, mainly due to lack of or inconvenient mass transit in the outlying areas of the city.

With its underdeveloped and inadequate mass transit system, roughly 77% of Los Angeles commuters either drove alone or carpooled to work, while only 20% used public transportation.

Houston, the country’s third largest city (2.1 million), was the flipside of NYC and ranked lowest of the four in green-friendly mode of transportation to work. Three-fourths of Houston’s commuters drove alone, and less than one-tenth (9.7%) used public transportation, biked, walked, or worked from home. Historically, Houston residents and elected officials have opposed the development of a mass transit system. It was the last major city to finally implement a 7.5-mile, 16-station light rail system, in 2004 that served only the densest areas.

Click through to see the enlarged image.


Implementing visualization techniques in faculty research
The image above shows different visualization techniques that might be used to effectively convey data or research conclusions to different types of audiences in various disciplines or industries. Some visualizations can help identify existing or emerging trends, spot irregularities or obscure patterns, and even address or solve issues.

A good example of one such implementation is Sociology Asst. Prof. Fernando DeMaio’s Center for Community Health Equity (CCHE) project. This research project used a multi-pronged approach in which maps were first created by SSRC to spatially visualize the areas served by hospitals in Chicago by various sub-geographies. Later, the SSRC trained Fernando’s research assistants how to clean and convert health, demographic and socio-economic data into mappable formats. They were also trained to create maps comparing health and demographic disparities in Chicago and Toronto, similar to the four-city transportation visualization depicted here.

Ask us how to visualize your research
If you want help with visualizing your own research findings or wonder if your research lends itself to similar techniques, including data acquisition and preprocessing of both quantitative and qualitative data, contact Nandhini Gulasingam at


Tools: Scrivener for Writing

There are few things that I encounter in real life where I think to myself, “Mother of God.  This is a game changer.”  The fact is, that I am an old dog and you know how we are with new tricks.


I recently joined the Mac cult and was introduced to Scrivener (there is also a PC version).  I don’t remember how it happened.  But I somehow came across it and did the free trial- thinking, “well, what is all this about?”  Long story short, Scrivener is for people who write (read: writers and academics).  It is pretty sweet- once you get used to it.  I admit, I am still working out all the things that it can do, and that I have only scratched the surface of its capabilities.

What I like most about it is that it takes a lot of the hassle of working with a traditional text editor (*side eyes MS Word*) like formatting and inability to move sections around easily out of the writing process.  It is easy to organize thoughts and parts of text.  It is possible to work on a section at a time in a large document, something that I believe is difficult in Word, particularly with very large sections and chapters.  In scrivener, these sections can be rearranged and dragged/dropped easily.

The thing I like most about it though, is that it keeps different components of a project together.  Because Scrivener has a “research” option, it is possible to keep your notes on a project with the actual project (as opposed to as comments in the body of a text).  Because we all know what happens when push comes to shove and MS Word’s formatting is giving you fits: deletions.  We delete those comments all in the name stopping some of the crazy auto-formatting that happens anytime you try to add a table or a figure or a page break or a section break to a word doc.  The problem is, that sometimes these thoughts and comments are substantive…. they belong to the thought structure of the paper.  In Scrivener, these thoughts can be kept alongside the sections where they occur.

There is a handy outlining feature in Scrivener, which if you ask me, is super useful for outlining academic papers.  As close to using index cards as you can get without actually using index cards.  There are templates that you can use- like Essays, Novels, and Non-Fiction, that each come front loaded with genre specific material.  It isn’t all crazy useful, but that content is easily deleted to customize your specific document.

This video is a great on-ramp to Scrivener, even if it is quite long (turn on while you eat lunch).  If you are thinking of parting ways with Word, or are trying to think of a way to work better, it might be worth your time to check out Scrivener.  To be fair, there is a steep learning curve in that it isn’t exactly intuitive to get up and running.  But it is definitely worth the free trial download!

Cheers and Happy Writing!

The Socially Vulnerable in Catastrophes and Disasters

If you consume any local media in Chicago, it would be hard to miss that last week was the 20th anniversary of the Great Chicago Heatwave of 1995.  Twenty years ago, temperatures in the city climbed to 106 degrees, with a heat index of 120.  Over 700 Chicagoans died as a result of the extreme temps: most of whom were the elderly poor.


What is remarkable, is that this happened in America, in the recent past.  This wasn’t some forgotten era, an ephemeral ghost haunting pages of history books.  In our lifetime, people died because they were poor and socially isolated.  Moreover, the destructiveness of the Chicago Heatwave was merely a sign of marginalizing neglect that is symptomatic of this new version of big American cities.  Eric Klinenberg (author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago) noted that examination of the disaster reveals “not simply the obvious relationship between poverty and suffering, but some of the institutional and social mechanisms upon which extreme forms of American insecurity are built” (1999).

In many ways, those that died during the Chicago Heat Wave illustrate how the socially vulnerable are at increased risk in natural disasters.  Some of those that died did so without working air conditions or even the economic resources to operate the ones they owned.  Many were disabled- unable to transport themselves out of their smothering apartments to cooling centers and public spaces where they could get cool.

It is no surprise that the some of the Chicago neighborhoods with the highest rates of heat related deaths were also those with the highest levels of violent crime in the year preceding the heat wave.  Neighborhoods that had slowly deteriorated over during the second half of the twentieth century presented a unique challenge to the socially vulnerable: escape to the cooling centers and public spaces outdoors, where they risked falling victim to the violent criminal activity in their neighborhoods or stay in their suffocating apartments.  Many “chose” to stay and many died.


Table 3 from page 85 of “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago”.

Ten years following the Heat Wave, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of Mexico in the Summer of 2005.  Unfortunately, the lessons learned in Chicago were ignored in the Gulf Coast and 1,100 residents of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish died when levees broke.  Again, the socially vulnerable bore the brunt of the storm.  At the time, Louisiana was the second poorest state in the Union.  More than 90,000 people in Louisiana made less than $10,000 a year.  African-Americans made 40% less in the Gulf Coast than whites.


Twenty-three percent of the New Orleans residents were considered poor (which was 76% higher than the national average).  Moreover, one in four New Orleans residents didn’t have access to a car, which might have been useful for escaping Katrina.  Moreover, the poor in the Gulf Coast overwhelmingly live in substandard housing- which was problematic when levees broke, unleashing the high waters of the flooding Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.


Those unfamiliar with how poverty works often assume that in times of emergency, individuals use personal resources to avoid catastrophe.  The problem with this is the assumption that individuals have personal resources at their disposal to avoid catastrophe.  Many don’t; they just paid the rent; it’s a week until pay day.  Many of the poor are forced to weather such events in place. Most of the time, this isn’t about the personal responsibility of individuals who don’t evacuate or seek out cooling centers.


The Pressure and Release (PAR) Model of Vulnerability and Disaster by Blaikie et al (1994)

This is about poverty and inequality in America.  Inequality before, during and after emergent weather events predicts the harm and devastation experienced by individuals.  Increasing inequality in America means that we can expect not only greater vulnerability to these events, but also greater devastation among those who are least likely to survive it.

Useful Resources

Klinenberg, Eric. 1999.  Denaturalizing Disaster: A Social Autopsy of the 1995 Chicago Heat Wave.  Theory and Society 28: 239-295.

Klinenberg, Eric. 2002. Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Center for American Progress.  2005.  Who are Katrina’s Victims?

Berube, Alan and Bruce Katz.  2005.  Katrina’s Window: Confronting Concentrated Poverty Across America.  Brookings Institution.

Berube, Alan and Steven Raphael.  2005.  Access to Cars in New Orleans.  Brookings Institution.