Further Musings

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On Listening

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Malcolm Gladwell has me thinking about listening this week and passage from by James C. Scott has me thinking about listening again.

“They key condition for charisma is listening very carefully and responding.  The condition for listening very carefully is a certain dependence on the audience, a certain relationship of power.  One of the characteristics of great power is not having to listen.  Those at the bottom of the heap are, in general, better listeners than those at the top.  The daily quality of the lifeworld of a slave, a serf, a sharecropper, a worker, a domestic depends greatly on an accurate reading of the mood and wishes of the powerful, whereas slave owners, landlords, and bosses can often ignore the wishes of their subordinates.  The structural conditions that encourage such attentiveness are therefore the key to the relationship.” pg 25-26.

“The larger and more authoritarian an organization [or state], the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginative worlds.”  Kenneth Boulding quoted on pg. 29

From Two Cheers for Anarchism by James C. Scott.


Written by furthermusings

July 11, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Political Science

Insights on Organizations

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Currently reading Bureaucracy by James Q Wilson at night (#GeekAlert).  It’s amazing that wisdom and insight about how organizations function is free for the taking if you can find the book and devote the time to reading it.  As someone deeply involved & interested in three complex and important organizations (the church, the university, and government) I’m eating it up.

This bit was particularly insightful.  Reminded me a great deal of many of the church leadership meetings I’ve been to over the years where we hashed out what the mission statement of the church is:

In trying to understand the success of these organizations, one has to understand how they … decided … to perform their critical task.  By critical task I mean those behaviors which, if successfully performed by key organizational members, would enable the organization to manage its critical environmental problem… for the Texas Department of Corrections, the critical environmental problem was maintaining order among numerically superior, temperamentally impulsive, and habitually aggressive inmates.  The critical task became the elaboration and enforcement of rules sufficiently precise, understandable, and inflexible that inmates would never acquire the opportunity for independent or collective action.

Notice that I have referred to tasks, not goals.  It is often the case that many analysts and executives who wish to improve an organization begin by trying to clarify its goals.  Sometimes this is useful.  But often government agencies, much more than business firms, are likely to have general, vague, or inconsistent goals about which clarity and agreement can only occasionally be obtained.  Often any effort to clarify them will result either in the production of meaningless verbiage or the exposure of deep disagreements. 

At some level, the Texas and Michigan prisons may have had similar goals – to keep order, rehabilitate inmates, incapacitate criminals, or deter would-be criminals.  But if either organization sought to improve itself by thinking harder about these goals, it probably would have discovered that it did not know how to do some of these things (rehabilitate), could only guess at whether it was able to do others (deter) and would have been internally divided over the relative importance or even meaning of others (order, incapacitation).

At Carver High, “educating children” was to some degree a purpose shared by everyone, but if a new principal had devoted himself or herself to clarifying the meaning of education, there would have occurred an interesting seminar but not much change.

Wilson, Pg.25-26.


Written by furthermusings

May 21, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Reflections after a Year of College Professoring

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We move to RI in just over two weeks and I’ve been thinking a lot about what this year has meant and what it has been.  I took the job at Furman (and painfully left Chapel Hill) to have a test run as working as a professor.

In the end, I think this year has really helped.  After the emotional and professional turmoil of grad school my emotions and thoughts about academics felt like swirling, churning, muddy river water.  This year has been a year to let the silt settle, the water clear, and know what I want.

The year has really changed my perspective.  I hadn’t realized how different being a professor is from being a graduate student and how much more I would enjoy it.  The pressure is less.  I’m not worried about if I’m going to measure up to the department or the dissertation committee.  There is a lot less “what do I do with my life?” angst.

The days are more structured.  I taught and planned three classes a semester instead of just TAing for one class.  I see students and faculty often, and this has been really good for my mental health. And I respect myself more. I feel like an adult in a way I did not in grad school.  Students, faculty, and even the Dean see me as a valuable asset instead of a burden. That feels good.

Also, I thought I knew what it would be like to be at a liberal arts college (LAC) before I came to Furman, but sitting at the end of the year I realize that I didn’t.  I’m surprised by the depth of relationships I developed with the students in just a year.  I had students for both semesters and I didn’t expect the bond that developed seeing them twice a week for a year.  I know them better.  I’ve shaped students more here that I ever did at UNC and that has been fulfilling (and I’ve got the cards and baklava from them to prove it :-))

I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed teaching upper-level seminars.  The students are interested in the material and they care more than they do in intro classes, the only kind I had taught at UNC.

I was surprised at what good colleagues the faculty were.  The job here demands less of their souls than a research university … they are still pretty odd by normal person standards … but a lot better than the vast majority of my grad school professors.  Furman isn’t a utopia but it’s better in deeper ways than I envisioned when I took the job.

All that to say that I’m glad I gave the academy a year or two as a professor before deciding whether or not to leave it.  I’ve had space to settle emotionally, get real experience being a professor in a way grad school couldn’t provide, and keep my options open between staying and leaving academia.  Working in Raleigh or DC is still an option but placing at a Furman (or Brown) wouldn’t have been an option if I had left the academy first.

I can walk away from the academy or remain in it with some emotional maturity that I didn’t have before.

I feel a connection with a church planter headed up to Boston who I had a beer with recently. He became a Christian his first year as a professor.  He wanted to become a minster but also wanted to make sure he wasn’t running from a fear of tenure.  He tenured and then changed careers.  Seeing in through brought a sense of solidness in his decision.

A year later I feel like I can leave or stay in academia on my terms, not being driven out by my own emotional muddiness nor by a lack of respect from others.  For that, I’m grateful.

Written by furthermusings

May 19, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Teen Pregnancy Rates, Birth Rates, and Abortion Rates in America

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“Why is the Teen Birth Rate in the United States So High and Why Does It Matter?” hit my inbox this morning.  As a potential adopted parent moving to the northeast I’ve had my eye on this kind of reporting. Three graphics stick out.

First, the US is just slightly different than the rest of the developed world when it comes to live births by teens.

Second, the number of US teen pregnancies, abortions, and births has been declining since a high in 1990 and hit a new low this year.  The number of parents interested in adopting infants has risen (I would imagine).  The list of parents interested in adoption through our agency in SC never shrinks, even as adoptions are matched.  This makes me wonder if adopting healthy domestic infants is an unmet need given that there are dozens of families in my state lining up to do it.

Third, moving to the northeast doesn’t make things feel more promising.  Northeastern states have the lowest teen birth rates and the south the highest.

What does this mean for our prospects for adopting?  Who can say?  Good to have real information to think about.

Written by furthermusings

May 9, 2012 at 7:42 am

Posted in Political Science

Working from home

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South Carolina does has its advantages, especially in the spring.

Written by furthermusings

February 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Thinking on Reading

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Tonight I picked up Lords of Finance: the Bankers who Broke the World for some weekend reading.  The first page has only this written on it:

Read no history — nothing but biography, for that is life without theory – Benjamin Disraeli

Tis a pretty interesting thought.

It seems that biography forces writers to deal with topics they would prefer to ignore.  John Adams was full of death and sickness in ways that I would have skirted if I was simply trying to write a compelling tale.

Biographies also always link broader historical themes to concrete events in individual lives.  Much better from my perspective.

I think I’ll start reading more of the genre.


Written by furthermusings

January 13, 2012 at 9:15 pm

An Unintended Compliment

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A comment from a student in the office yesterday:

This isn’t like my other political science classes.  In those I just have think.  Here I have to provide evidence for what I think and it’s a lot harder.”


Written by furthermusings

October 19, 2011 at 7:33 am

Posted in Political Science