Topics in Quantitative Sociology

Fall 2020 ENSAE

Case-study for reading and commentary

Goffman, 2009, ASR, “On the run: Wanted men in a Philadelphia Ghetto”

Abstract: Although recent increases in imprisonment are concentrated in poor Black communities, we know little about how daily life within these neighborhoods is affected. Almost all ethnographic work in poor minority neighborhoods was written before the expansion of the criminal justice system, and the bulk of research on “mass imprisonment” relies on survey data, field experiments, or interviews, conceptualizing its impact in terms of current or former felons and their families. Drawing on six years of fieldwork in Philadelphia, this article shifts the focus from imprisonment and criminal records to the increase in policing and supervision in poor Black neighborhoods, and what this has meant for a growing status group of wanted people. For many young men, avoiding jail has become a daily preoccupation: they have warrants out for minor infractions, like failing to pay court fees or breaking curfew, and will be detained if they are identified. Such threat of imprisonment transforms social relations by undermining already tenuous attachments to family, work, and community. But young men also rely on their precarious legal standing to explain failures that would have occurred anyway, while girlfriends and neighbors exploit their wanted status as an instrument of social control. I discuss the implications of my ethnographic observations relative to prior treatments of the poor and policing, and with regard to broader sociological questions about punishment and surveillance in the modern era.

Case-studies for presentation

Combining statistical and ethnographic analyses, this article explores the prevalence and ramifications of eviction in the lives of the urban poor. A quantitative analysis of administrative and survey data finds that eviction is commonplace in inner-city black neighborhoods and that women from those neighborhoods are evicted at significantly higher rates than men. A qualitative analysis of ethnographic data based on fieldwork among evicted tenants and their landlords reveals multiple mechanisms propelling this discrepancy. In poor black neighborhoods, eviction is to women what incarceration is to men: a typical but severely consequential occurrence contributing to the reproduction of urban poverty.
This study uses a mixed methods approach to workplace dynamics. Ethnographic observations show that the consent deal underlies an informal stratification that divides the workplace into an “informalperiphery” a “conventional core” and an “administrative clan.” The “consent deal” is defined as an exchange of autonomy voice and schedule flexibility for intensified commitment, and is modeled as a single factor underlying these elements. When constructed as an additive scale, consent allows informal organization to be included in workplace models. Despite its derivation from subjective and informal processes, informal structure exerts an independent effect on objective job rewards such as wages. 
Despite the profound impact Durkheim’s Suicide has had on the social sciences, several enduring issues limit the utility of his insights. With this study, we offer a new Durkheimian framework for understanding suicide that addresses these problems. We seek to understand how high levels of integration and regulation may shape suicide in modern societies. We draw on an in-depth, qualitative case study (N = 110) of a cohesive community with a serious adolescent suicide problem to demonstrate the utility of our approach. Our case study illustrates how the lives of adolescents in this highly integrated community are intensely regulated by the local culture, which emphasizes academic achievement. Additionally, the town’s cohesive social networks facilitate the spread of information, amplify the visibility of actions and attitudes, and increase the potential for swift sanctions. This combination of cultural and structural factors generates intense emotional reactions to the prospect of failure among adolescents and an unwillingness to seek psychological help for adolescents’ mental health problems among both parents and youth. Ultimately, this case illustrates (1) how high levels of integration and regulation within a social group can render individuals vulnerable to suicide and (2) how sociological research can provide meaningful and unique insights into suicide prevention.
This article presents culture as a vehicle of labor market sorting. Providing a case study of hiring in elite professional service firms, I investigate the often suggested but heretofore empirically unexamined hypothesis that cultural similarities between employers and job candidates matter for employers’ hiring decisions. Drawing from 120 interviews with employers as well as participant observation of a hiring committee, I argue that hiring is more than just a process of skills sorting; it is also a process of cultural matching between candidates, evaluators, and firms. Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns about shared culture were highly salient to employers and often outweighed concerns about absolute productivity. I unpack the interpersonal processes through which cultural similarities affected candidate evaluation in elite firms and provide the first empirical demonstration that shared culture—particularly in the form of lifestyle markers—matters for employer hiring. I conclude by discussing the implications for scholarship on culture, inequality, and labor markets.