Visualizing Data as Discovery

I have been obsessed with data visualization lately. My go-to tool at this point is till R, which I have been told over and over again that it’s not as versatile as Python. However, it’s the matter of path dependence, and that I am used to figuring out how to to ask the right questions in R in order to get desirable results.

With Python, different steps that I need to figure out to get desirable results are still black boxes to me. While writing this blog post, I have realized that I really need to master the Python programming language this summer. I have gotten down the basics. It is the matter of practice. Thus, this is the right time for me to actually sit down, and become really familiar with python, and be able to produce work using python programing language.

Back to the issue of data visualization. Today, I spent 8 hours straight trying to figure out how to create stacked chart in R. I have been trying to create it for quite a while. It started about 4 weeks ago when I promised my research partner that I would create a stacked chart figure for our text mining paper. I asked all people I know around to help me. They all did not deliver. Today, it turned out, I rolled up my sleeves, sat down in front of my laptop, and figured how to create the chart. My final result is not as clean as what I would have liked. It’s nowhere close to a scientific journal level quality. But the figure conveys the main idea, and that it is sufficient for me to draw some conclusions from the data.

This is the figure that I produced after a day trying to create it. Besides, it also took some serious conceptual understanding of what this figure actually represents. In other words, I learned both the technical skills, and the conceptual understanding behind the process of creating it. legend18

What I did was that I downloaded a corpus of text from the subreddit podcasting, a community dedicated to creating podcasts. My goal was to create a stacked chart that demonstrates different topics over time. The topics are represented by trigrams. Specifically, I calculated top trigrams per month, and charted them over time. Even though I downloaded all content from the subreddit, which started in 2010, I found that trigram chart only matters once I narrowed down the date range to 2016-2020.

The resulting figure shows that the subreddit started with accepting promotional podcasts, then became dominated with weekly podcast discussions, and technical discussions (such as mic, mixer audio interface). One topic that remains central over time is the different podcast distribution platforms (Apple Podcast, Google, Spotify).

The overall topics concern with technical aspects of producing content, and the different main platforms that one could distribute episodes, as well as finding shows. From these various topics one can conclude that in the past 5 years of the previous decade, the podcasting community focused a lot on the technological aspects of the field.  Technology matters from both sides: creation and consumption. Thus, it seems that the main driver of the podcasting field so far has been the sheer development in technology both for content creation and content consumption. What is surprising to me through this exercise is that the discussion about how to monetize a podcast doesn’t show up at all  in the top trigrams per  month analysis. This raises a question about whether the goal of being able to make money from producing a podcast ever a goal for a podcaster.

After spending my weekend working on this little project, I actually felt good about my product. I felt that I actually spent a day building something, and that at the end of the day, I actually saw the result of what I built. This satisfying feeling made me recognize how much I actually appreciate coding. One computer scientist I followed wrote in his newsletter that code doesn’t lie. One knows the exact effects of all the actions. When the final results are not attained, no way bullshitting would help.

More visualizations will come out of my work in the next weeks to come. So far, I am very happy with my progress in learning data visualizations. The more I get into visualizing data, the more I understand the importance of being able to use charts and graphs to understand the social world that we’re living in.

Publicity as Freedom

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the nature of content production in the Web 2.0 Era, where cost of production is low, and that barriers to distribution have disappeared. Take blogging for example, it came of age in the Web 1.0 Era, which started an entire revolution of digital writing. Then social media came out, and everyone could contribute content on various platforms. These two factors things combine, and then you add the fact that content is distributed for free, and consumed for free. The result is that journalism as we knew it is disappearing. Digital content production disrupted journalism, news production, and news consumption.

The term that sociologists and technologists use to describe the above-mentioned process, whereby consumers also produce content for consumption is prosumption.  This term is very apt in describing what we are experiencing in the Web 2.0, when content is offered for free at no cost. Consumers are used to this free-of-charge content practice, and demand that information is always provided for free. The result, producers do not getting paid for their products.

When talking with podcasters in New York City, I learned that they always put information about their private life out there for their listeners to consume. This is  interesting. However, there is a delicate balance between how much intimate information should one reveal, and how much information should be kept private.

The following paragraph in Status Update by Alice Marwick explores the ideas of freedom, transparency, and openness in the Web 2.0 era:

[Facebook and other social media platforms] frame openness as socially beneficial, but the tools and culture of the Web 2.0 have evolved to promote a particular kind of openness and transparency because it drives profit to social media companies, not because it furthers freedom and democracy (p. 236-237).

Before this little excerpt in the book, Marwick begins by making a distinction between openness and transparency. She argues that openness is to make everything completely available to the public, but it might not be necessarily useful. Whereas, transparency is to make information both public, and meaningful to the public. In the case of Web 2.0, the public here is any networked audience. She then makes the case that social media platforms such as Facebook, and Twitter promote the idea of completely open, but this might not be a good idea. The quote above provides insights to how platforms benefit from users-generated content, and at the same time  they are creating new kinds of subjectivity for their users. This paragraph makes me think more about the question of subjectivity for people whom I have interviewed. What is the kind of subjectivity that podcasters experience when they start producing podcasts?

 

 

Public Sociology: Podcast as an Effective Medium

In the previous blog post with the title We are All Public Scholars Now,  I argued that most sociologists have agreed that doing public sociology is desirable, and that the Internet has significantly lowered barriers to entry to disseminate scholar work, and to voice their expert opinion. Furthermore, I raised various issues that are associated with Twitter as a platform to engage with the publics. Twitter offers instantaneous access to public debates, but scholars can also get into polarized debates because of social network effect. In this blog post, I would like to focus on another platform where sociologists can also engage in public sociology: Podcast.

The five main ways that I have seen scholars engage with the public, and disseminate their work are as follows:

1. Public lectures

2. Traditional media (newspaper, talk shows, popular books)

3. Blog

4. Social Media (Tweet, Facebook, etc.)

5. Podcast.

Among those five categories, the first two are “conventional.”  Scholars have given public lectures, and talked to traditional media since the inception of the university as an institution. Increasingly I have seen that scholars write more popular books than academic books to engage with well-read audience who are not necessarily academic-oriented. Even when writing scholarly books, they try to eliminate academic language such as “As XYZ writes,” or “XYZ argues.” They try to stay away from those rigid academic language that does not flow in a normal conversation. For example, Richard Ocejo in his latest book Master of Craft, tried to “break the frame of writing academically,” and avoid “the academic shorthand.” These practices challenged him “to explain our concepts in other language and not rely on what we take for granted” (Scholars’ Conversation: Richard Ocejo).  Increasingly it has become blurring between scholar writing and popular/creative non-fiction writing. This shows that scholars have incorporated the idea of public-facing sociology into their knowledge production process.

The next three categories among the five categories only started with the rise of the Internet. Blogging has been a popular form to engage with the blogsphere. Increasingly more scholars start to use Twitter as a place to disseminate their work. Because scholars have used the first two ways to engage with their various publics, there has been an established protocol about how to disseminate their work via these routes. A scholar needs some credentials, which establish that they are an expert in certain field. Besides, there are various gatekeepers such as TV managers, anchors, and other network personnel that could facilitate or prevent a scholar to disseminate their work and engage with the public. With the rise of the Internet, and the decreasing barriers to entry to various platforms such as blog, social media, and podcast, scholars can now disseminate their work quickly, and cost-effectively.  They can avoid the middleman problem, and totally stay away from institutional gatekeepers that sometimes might not want them to voice their opinion.

9780226364780

Sociologists Arlene Stein and Jessie Daniels in their book Going Public gave a timely advice to social scientists about how to be more of a public scholar, engaging with different publics using digital technologies. In the book, they emphasize that writing concisely, clearly, and not using jargon is the foremost important requirement for a scientist to engage with the public. Then they explore various digital technologies, and how they change the way scholars are doing their work. They give detailed descriptions of how to start and maintain a scholarly blog, or a Twitter account, and whether Facebook is a problematic platform to maintain scholarly presence. However, they do not mention anything about podcast as a communication tool to engage with the wider audience. This book is telling. Social scientists have written blog posts, written for the New York Times, yet few of them maintain a podcast where they could directly communicate with the wider audience. Why don’t we embrace this particular medium?

One reason has to do with the time cost of maintaining a well-run podcast. It takes a lot of time, and work to create and maintain a podcast. Even though social scientists have not come out and talk about their burnout problem as much as physicians do, they are nevertheless burdened with lots of administrative work on top of their heavy teaching load, and doing research. Maintaining a podcast? No thank you very much. Just the idea of starting a podcast, and making sure that people are listening to the podcast, and that it runs well is overwhelming to any busy scholar.

However, there are some good sociology podcasts out there such as the Annex, or Thinking Allowed. Both of these podcasts are exceptionally well-run by veteran sociologists in the English speaking world. I have written a review of the two podcasts on this blog about a year ago, and one can find out more about it here. SozioPod from Germany also does such a great job in bridging the communication gap between social scientists and the publics about social issues in the German speaking world. Those examples show that other than cost/benefit reason, there must be another reason that podcasting is a difficult market to crack for social scientists. It could be inherent to graduate school training that we all receive.

When writing a blog post, for the New York Times, a popular book, or simply tweeting, the main skill that one needs is to be able to communicate effectively in the written forms. In contrast, podcasts require a completely different skills set: story telling, conversational reaction with the host, some humor. In other words, the podcasting repertoire is completely different from the scholarly repertoire. In order to become a good scholar, one needs to think and write mostly. Even though teaching is a part of a professor’s work, it is not the main criterion where one’s evaluated as a scholar. The image of a socially awkward professor still comes to mind when one thinks about a serious scholar. Most of us are introverts who read more than playing with our peers outside during our childhood. During our grad school training, we become even more introverted because of the solitary nature of our work. Podcasting requires more than just knowledge. One needs to step outside of one’s comfortable introvert zone to talk to the audience, and to maintain that long-term connection.

In a nutshell, one does not get trained to become a good podcaster in grad school. This explains why most scientists have chosen to become public scholars on platforms such as blogs, and social media. There is “a skill consonance” between being a scholar and being able to maneuver those platforms. While there is “a skill dissonance” between being a scholar and being a good podcaster.  Therefore, even though the cost to enter the podcasting world has significantly reduced, scholars still have not moved into this space with a rapid number to engage with the wider audience.

 

 

 

Soziopod: Sociology Podcast from Germany

In the past, I have reviewed two sociology podcasts from the United States and the United Kingdom, namely The Annex Sociology, and Thinking Allowed (Than 2017). Still an avid listener of both channels, I am constantly learning about new ideas and the development in my field on the two sides of the Atlantic. Yet, the previous blog post reveals that my consumption of sociological knowledge is very Anglo-American centric. That is, outside of what is available in the English language, I almost never tried to read sociological knowledge written in another language. While in Berlin, I discussed this issue with a good friend, Herrmann Königs, a sociologist in training at Humboldt University in Berlin. He suggested that I should listen to a sociology podcast in German. It’s called Soziopod. I took a listen, and was pleasantly surprised by its content, the quality of the debates, and the number of episodes available. This blog post summarizes my overall evaluation of the podcast.

Soziopod

One can find more information about the podcast here. According to Wikipedia, it is dedicated to sociological and philosophical topics, and started in 2011. The podcast is unfortunately in German, which means that it is non-accessible to many. Unlike the two podcasts mentioned above, which focus mainly on sociology and other related social sciences, this podcast brings philosophy to the center of all social debates. This element in itself is very refreshing.

The podcast is hosted by Dr. Nils Köbel and Patrick Breitenbach. Dr. Köbel is a trained sociologist of children, youth, and religion, and Patrick Breitenbach is an expert in digital media. They make a good pair of hosts because both of them are invested in various topics. Since one of them is a media expert, he could translate abstract concepts into layman’s language. Many a times, the podcast avoids sociological jargon, which only insiders could understand.  The purpose of the podcast is to make sociological knowledge accessible to everyone. Dr. Köbel stated that they try present the topics in a manner of general understanding to “bring Sociology to the streets, where it belongs.”

A typical episode lasts around one hour. It is structured around a topic such as social inequality, migration, power, right-wing extremism, religion, or the Frankfurt School of social theory. That means, it’s a wealth of knowledge for anybody who is interested in social debates in Germany. Every once in a while, they also air a special episode where the hosts discuss an issue with a body of audience, and interact with them. Sometimes they invite experts to comment on certain topics. That means listeners could directly raise a question to the hosts/moderators, and sometimes debate with the two hosts as well. Since its inception in 2011, the program has produced more than 70 episodes, a few public forums for an audience to interact with the hosts, and they have published one book. This is quite impressive!

After the topic is being introduced, the hosts would define an important concept or concepts. Then they introduce the different social theorists who have written about the topic, and elaborate more on how these theorists are in conversation with one another. More importantly the discussions are situated in the context of contemporary Germany, which makes abstract scholarly debates relatable to daily life experience.

The discussions have a lot of pedagogical values. During the course of one hour, one can learn many important social theory concepts, and could look for appropriate examples to make sense a particular concept.  Each episode contains lots of knowledge about social theory.  The hosts often highlight theoretical concepts which have been invented by German theorists such as Jürgen Harbamas,  Thomas Luhmann,  or Theodor Adorno. I found these discussions fascinating because I have never really read these authors closely, nor used any of their works before. What is even more intriguing is that the hosts would relate sociological concepts to philosophical concepts. In other words, they acknowledge the foundation of sociology: philosophy. When unearthing the genealogy of a particular term, one could trace it back to some philosopher who wrote about similar topics. This is a contrast to my current sociological training in the United States, which as a field has developed into something that has been moved quite far from philosophy, or social theory.

Even though the podcast is a great pedagogical channel, as an American trained student of sociology, I cannot help but point out some of its shortcomings. First, its main topics would be categorized under the umbrellas of social theory or political sociology in American sociology terms. According to the recent sections that are listed on the American Sociological Association’s website, social theory and political sociology are two among its 52 official sections. In other words, the podcast covers a very small fraction of all possible sociological topics that one can study.

Given the nature of its leaning toward social theory, and philosophy,  most discussions stay on the abstract level. The discussions are centered around a topic, relevant sociological concepts, and different possible directions that could be taken to deal with the topic. What is barely discussed is empirical evidence to test whether the theory actually works on the grounds. The general structure of one episode is organized as follows:

  1. Definition of a concept
  2. How to operationalize the concept?
  3. Can one use the concept in a particular context in relation to the given topic?
  4. Who else has talked about the concept and this phenomenon since ancient philosophy?
  5. What else can we learn about the phenomenon?
  6. Is there any unresolved contradiction?

The hosts barely cite new research conducted in contemporary Germany. They often talk about big thinkers, who came up with concepts that could be applied universally. There are almost no discussions about methodology and data, which in my opinion are the strength of sociology. We are a pluralistic bunch of scientists who employ a variety of methods, theories, and data to study the social world. The podcast’s main focuses are concepts, and argumentation. As a student of immigration, work, and the urban, I find the podcast lacking because those fields are by definition not the main focus of the podcast. Because of its emphasis on theory, the podcast is also not paying enough attention to the lived experience of a particular group, which quintessentially showcases how a person inhabits their living environment, and reveals their social world.

When I brought up my observation about the lack of empirical research discussions in the podcast, my friend, Herrmann Königs, commented that this illustrates what is valued and emphasized in sociological research and pedagogy in Germany. In his words: “German sociology emphasizes intellectual history of a concept, and whether the concept could be applied universally.” We then went on to debate the question: Is it necessary to learn about the historical context, through which the concept arose in order to understand a contemporary social phenomenon? We couldn’t come up with a consensus whether it is productive to learn about intellectual history of a concept, or whether it is more productive to learn how to apply it in a contemporary situation. However, our discussion highlights the differences in our training on the two sides of the Atlantic. American sociological training tends to emphasize the empirical; the German, the theoretical.

Due to their training, my German counterparts impress me with their expertise in close reading of original texts, and the logic of their argumentation. However, I find their main interests on formal institutions such as the church, the school, and the state to be limiting. Sociologists can also study sub-cultures such as that of the urban squatters, Punk Rock culture, the Fusion (the equivalent of the Burning Man), the proliferation of Yoga, and the immigrants. All of those marginal groups might one day become mainstream, and by studying these subgroups, sociologists could reveal social transformations.

One could criticize that I am too American-centric, and that I cannot impose an agenda set by my profession on one side of the Atlantic to the other. I agree that I am an American trained sociologist, but I also think that as a profession, scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have much to learn from each other. German sociology provides rigorous theoretical training that I wish American graduate programs could provide. I would like to see students from day one to engage more with theoretical texts, and learn how to do it properly rather than seeing people like myself scared of social theory, and opt to do empirical research from day one. Thus, many a times sociology papers read a-theoretical to me. However, American pragmatism is much to be praised. With this pragmatic orientation in mind, we are looking for mechanism of why something is the case, and using our sociological imagination to reveal it. The two papers that I have read lately that showcase how a mechanism-focused researcher could be done are “When two bodies are (not) a problem” by Lauren Rivera (2017), and “All that is Solid” by David Peterson (2015). They exemplify some of the best contemporary sociological research that American academia has to offer.

Another aspect that I find not satisfactory is that the main (if not only) geographical focus of the podcast is Germany. It doesn’t give any air time other German speaking countries such as Switzerland, Austria, and Lichtenstein. If the social concepts are so universally applicable, why are they not applied in other cultural, sociopolitical contexts? According to Jaeeum Kim(2017), the field of sociology is openly anti-area studies. In other words, American sociologists tend to study American society; Germans study German one. Despite all odds, many sociologists travel across nation-state boundaries to study a particular social phenomenon. A few great books that I have read in the past two years include Jaeeun Kim (2016)’s Contested Embrace, where the author examined immigration from the Korean Peninsula, and their diasporic politics in the 20th century. Another example is Kimberly Hoang (2015)’s Dealing in Desire, which is an excellent ethnography that looks at the co-production of gender and capital in the sex market place in the context of globalizing Vietnam. Two growing subfields of sociological research are China Studies and Asian Studies. The 21st century has been dubbed as the Asian Century. It would be a mistake to not pay any attention to this important geographical area. In other words, only paying attention to social phenomena that occur within the geographical boundary of the German nation is a disadvantage for German sociologists in the context of increasing interdependence and interconnections of different areas of the world.

In conclusion, Sociopod has provided me with a substantial vocabulary to talk with my sociology colleagues on this side of the Atlantic. If you’re comfortable with social theory, political sociology, or pedagogy, you should give it a try. It is packed with bite-size discussions of theoretical knowledge. Its ability to reach a popular audience is aspiring. Bringing sociology to the street is such an inspiring goal, and it ought to be supported. In the context of the increasing emphasis of public sociology, I wish that all academics could use some of the hosts’ techniques to mainstream sociological knowledge to the wider audience. Sociology indeed belongs to the street, and that the knowledge of the profession should not be contained within the walls of the academe.

 

 

 

Sociology Podcasts: Thinking Allowed vs. The Annex Sociology

The first blog entry I wrote is about the increasing listenership of podcasts. Since then I have received many recommendations from friends, and those who read and commented on my post. Among the suggestions, a few stand out to be excellent entertainment, and intellectual channels for my commute. One of them is Imaginary Worlds, which is a podcast about science fictions. It is a delicious show with many bite-size science fiction audibles. Alternatively, I listen to New York standup comedy shows such as Sleepyhead. Another weird one that has to do with insect and the science of Entomophagy is the Ento. It seems that anything you want to listen to, there is a podcast for it. The choices are endless. One faces with the paradox of choice in one’s consumption of audible, which is at the end of the day a quintessential American consumption problem.

The phrase “have a listen” now becomes a part of my daily language, which is in and of itself an interesting development. Sometimes a friend recommends a new show; other times I just follow suggestions on the podcast-sphere.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a podcast which targets sociology nerds. What a great find! It is the Annex Sociology, a podcast solely dedicated to sociology. It is, however, not the first sociology podcast that I ever listened to. I have been a big fan of Thinking Allowed, hosted by Laurie Taylor, a British sociologist. The Annex Sociology, however, is different. It is co-hosted by three sociologists: Joseph Cohen (CUNY Queens College), Leslie Hinkson (Georgetown), and Gabriel Rossman (UCLA). That means it is made on the American soil, and dedicated to American sociology!

This blog post is about good bits and can-be-improved parts that the Annex Sociology has in comparison to its British counterpart. Overall, it is a great podcast for sociology graduate students. I do not recommend it to undergraduate students, or popular audience mainly because of the amount of inside jokes, and jargons that the hosts throw out.

Thinking Allowed

For starters, Thinking Allowed is a British show, a BBC Radio 4 series discussing social science. The earliest episode available online is dated back to November 2007. That means it has been in existence for at least 10 years, and bas been consistently hosted by the sociologist, Laurie Taylor, now a retired professor of sociology. Each episode lasts only 28 minutes. The number of minutes is very strict, and has been kept 28 minutes for the past decade. Within the limited amount of time, Laurie Taylor manages to be very compact, includes various debates, and invites a wide range of speakers in only one episode. Take for example one of my favorite episode: The Subway.  The main guest of the show is William Kornblum, whose new book is about the 7 train in New York. Kornblum basically uses the train as a social lab to study social interactions of different immigrant and ethnic groups. Laurie Taylor invited two other guests including Iain Sinclair, writer and film maker, and Melissa Butcher, a reader in social and cultural sociology. That is to say, in 30 minutes, he is able to entertain listeners with three experts from completely different fields on the topic of the subway as a social laboratory. Sometimes Taylor cut the guest speakers off  when they  try to make a long-winded argument. In other contexts, it might sound rude, but it is totally understandable in a limited air-time show. He uses the phrase “in the interest of time” almost every episode to suggest that the speaker should put their thoughts in a more succinct manner.

By the virtue of being aired from the UK, a lot of research on the UK soil is featured. It is important because sociologists tend to do research where they live. To paraphrase Les Back: sociologists are like social scientists like anthropologists, but we like to study a local bus station rather than a village in Southeast Asia. That means by listening to Thinking Allowed, I get a sense of what a good sociological research from the UK sounds like. At times Taylor would invite German, Italian, French and Russian researchers to share their works. Put differently, his podcast is European in nature. As the example above demonstrated, he also invites American scholars to speak in his show. The kind of transatlantic, transcontinental scholarly exchange in Laurie Taylor’s show is very impressive.

On the artistic and performative side, the show makes one feel that sociology is not a science but a true art form. Whenever an ethnographer is invited to speak, Laurie would skillfully inject an excerpt from the speaker’s newest book. A voice actor/actress would read something that an informant says about his/her social world, or what he/she thinks about certain phenomenon/practice. This form of spoken ethnography transports the listener immediately into that person’s social world, and helps the listener to be able to make sense of the informant’s worldview. This is qualitative sociology at its best: being performed.

All of the artistic, story-telling, and impactful that Thinking Allowed has to provide keeps me a loyal listener for the past 5 years. I discovered it when I was not even aware of what a typical sociologist does. I just listened to it for the sheer amount of interesting information, and knowledge that I learned from the show. The show has a popular appeal. Now let me turn to the younger American podcast, the Annex Sociology, and compares it with its British friend.

The Annex Sociology  

It is a weekly podcast. A new episode is uploaded every Monday. The hosts, Joseph Cohen, Leslie Hinkson, and Gabriel Rossman provide readers with the state of the art updates on what is going on in American Sociology. Each episode is a feast of discussion of theoretical and methodological innovations. Besides, the three hosts are really funny. They make me feel as if I was listening to The Simpson sometimes.

The three hosts, even though are based at different universities across the country have a few things in common. For one, they all got their PhD from Princeton University. For another, they are all quantitative researchers. Yet speakers come from a diverse methodological background including ethnography, interview, etc.

According to Leslie Hickson, “Annex” means something outside, beyond the main premises of a property, so they talk about things that are often not discussed in a classroom context for example. For a sociology enthusiast like me, the content of all episodes is great, especially when all hosts agree that “we should purge STATA out of sociology.” This statement was a brutal attack for my current training because I have not even learned much of STATA skill yet, and already feel like my skills are no longer needed. Why wasting my time acquiring something that will go extinct? It is similar my other debate: why I should get a driver’s license in the era of driverless cars.

In the first few episodes, I was lost most of the times because the hosts use vocabulary that is inherent to quantitative research to make their points cross. Currently focusing on honing my qualitative research skills, I pay very little attention to quantitative research language. In other words, even being trained as a sociologist, I still need some cultural translation to understand various points. Unlike its social science kin disciplines such as anthropology and economics, sociology suffers from methodological tribalism. It is both an advantage and a curse of the field. Within qualitative method, there are at least four different sub-methods: ethnography, interview, media/content analysis, and comparative historical analysis. Certainly the process of sub-tribalization is even more intense in quantitative research. In total, one has a lot to choose from, or one suffers again from “a paradox of choice.”

However, listening to these young and enthusiastic researchers/ professors, who are full of energy, and willing to put their words, opinions out there about the field is exciting. They create a very good space to invite young academics to share their research. That means sociologists are engaging more in public dissemination of knowledge. This is a great improvement.

Furthermore, they are all hilarious, and I could not stop laughing at their various jokes on popular culture. In one episode, Leslie Hickson talks about Taylor Swift and her brand, and how Taylor Swift has outgrown her brand, but she does not know how to make the adjustment. For a person who does not listen to American pop music, and follow tabloid news. Their tuning in to scandals gives me a secondary source to talk with my undergraduate students.

In comparison to Laurie’s Thinking allowed episodes in general the American counterparts are a lot longer generally around 70 minutes. That means it takes me maybe 1.5 days to finish an episode because my commute is in generally less than 30 minutes. When I pick up the episode again, I have already forgotten what was discussed the day before.

There are a lot of methodology discussions more than Laurie’s channel. This is what I see as a strength of American sociology in comparison to its European counterpart. Social scientists in this country constantly come up with methodological innovation. Sociologists borrow techniques from various fields such as biostatistics, computer science, physics to better measure and model social world. This borrowing is a double edge sword because it makes the podcast so much out of reach to the majority of lay people. Even at a graduate level, I still find a discussion of Python and object-oriented R language to be exoteric. Sometimes these discussions increase my professional anxiety. I keep asking myself whether I have been receiving the wrong kind of training, and obsolete training already. I am already becoming a dinosaur before I am even born a baby. What’s the matter with my education? I know it’s not the state-of-the-art kind of research education, but it seems that what I am studying now should have gone extinct long time ago. So instead of enlightening me in terms of providing me vocabulary to articulate some social problems, the podcast re-enforces the existing pressure in academia: there are very few jobs; it’s very competitive now; and one has to publish [peer-reviewed articles].

At the end of the day, the three well-meaning academics bring their professional stress, and spread it to their audience. Whether I should take this stress as something real or not, it is still a question. Whether I should convert my methodological inclination to quantitative or not, it depends on my research question.

One needs to acknowledge that they are doing needed work here by making information more transparent in the field. In comparison to the British one, they probably do not receive any governmental or institutional funding. That means they have been using their “free” time to create public knowledge. The fact that they do not receive funding for their project sadly highlights the neoliberal nature of higher education, and knowledge production in this country.

If they received funding, I am sure that they could shorten the episodes by writing very structured script before airing anything. The episodes would be less in conversational style, but more in structural form. They would be able to invite speakers from outside the US, etc. Being inclusive is a big thing here. Sociologists are very diverse in terms of their theoretical and methodological approach. I am looking forward to more interesting talks, and also more innovation from the Podcast. I hope that the learning curve is not steep, and that these three brilliant sociologists will soon figure out that their production of knowledge can be improved really fast.