Sunday, August 23, 2015

American Journal of Sociology 121(1)

Tools from the study of neighborhood effects, place distinction, and regional identity are employed in an ethnography of four small cities with growing populations of lesbian, bisexual, and queer-identified (LBQ) women to explain why orientations to sexual identity are relatively constant within each site, despite informants’ within-city demographic heterogeneity, but vary substantially across the sites, despite common place-based attributes. The author introduces the concept of “sexual identity cultures”—and reveals the defining role of cities in shaping their contours. She finds that LBQ numbers and acceptance, place narratives, and newcomers’ encounters with local social attributes serve as touchstones. The article looks beyond major categorical differences (e.g., urban/rural) to understand how and why identities evolve and vary and to reveal the fundamental interplay of demographic, cultural, and other city features previously thought isolatable. The findings challenge notions of identity as fixed and emphasize the degree to which self-understanding and group understanding remain collective accomplishments.

Can we identify and theorize contingency as a property of processes and situations? Applied to social and historical events, contingency denotes a mode of causality characterized by its indeterminate character. Conjunctural causation and period effects lack the specificity required to identify a distinctive class of processes. References to chance happenings offer no clue to analyze endogenous disruptions. Focusing on breaks in patterns of social relations and the role played by individual agency, the author distinguishes four types of impact—pyramidal, pivotal, sequential, and epistemic—and investigates how these relate to the possibility of indeterminacy through an Event Structure Analysis of the night of August 4, 1789, in Versailles. This empirical foray underscores the significance of junctures that are indeterminate with respect to their collective outcomes. The article grounds analytically this class of conjunctures with the concept of mutual uncertainty, gauges the phenomenal scope of this contingency in terms of action domains and group types, contrasts it with the notion of chance events, and draws its implications for the study of social and historical change.

The shift away from school desegregation policies toward market-based reforms necessitates a deeper understanding of the social and institutional forces driving contemporary school segregation. The author conceptualizes school segregation as a mode of monopolistic closure amid status competition, where racial/ethnic groups compete for school-based status and resources. He tests the theory by analyzing primary and secondary school segregation throughout the United States from 1993 to 2010. Findings support the hypotheses that segregation increases with the salience of race/ethnicity and the decentralization of school systems, which fuels differentiation and provides incentives and opportunities to monopolize schools. Parallel findings for black-white, Hispanic-white, and black-Hispanic segregation suggest that a core set of processes drives school segregation as a general phenomenon.

How do gender relations regulate the American state? To answer this question the author examines archival material on the formation and operation of the Selective Service System during World War I, the understudied federal American draft system. She shows how the federal government vested local draft board members with the authority to determine on a subjective, case-by-case basis whether potential draftees were genuine breadwinners in determining whom to draft and who would receive dependency-based deferments. Informal rules of thumb about the gender-ordered family structured the First World War draft. By analyzing the Selective Service System and by placing feminist political sociology, scholarship in the American political development tradition, and Weberian scholarship on the modern state in critical dialogue with one another, the author identifies how the American state’s locally applied substantive rationality relied on the family’s gender hierarchy in ordering its rational informality. Gender relations thereby rationalized the state’s local informality.

Based on focus groups and interviews with student renters in an Israeli slum, the article explores the contributions of differences in sonic styles and sensibilities to boundary work, social categorization, and evaluation. Alongside visual cues such as broken windows, bad neighborhoods are characterized by sonic cues, such as shouts from windows. Students understand “being ghetto” as being loud in a particular way and use loudness as a central resource in their boundary work. Loudness is read as a performative index of class and ethnicity, and the performance of middle-class studentship entails being appalled by stigmatized sonic practices and participating in their exoticization. However, the sonic is not merely yet another resource of boundary work. Paying sociological attention to senses other than vision reveals complex interactions between structures anchored in the body, structures anchored in language, and actors’ identification strategies, which may refine theorizations of the body and the senses in social theory.

Caste and Choice: The Influence of Developmental Idealism on Marriage Behavior
Keera Allendorf and Arland Thornton
Is the marriage behavior of young people determined by their socioeconomic characteristics or their endorsement of developmental idealism? This article addresses this question using a unique longitudinal data set from Nepal and provides the first individual-level test of developmental idealism theory. The authors find that unmarried individuals with greater endorsement of developmental idealism in 2008 were more likely by 2012 to choose their own spouse, including a spouse of a different caste, rather than have an arranged marriage. Those with salaried work experience were also less likely to have arranged marriages, but urban proximity and education were not significant. The authors conclude that both developmental idealism and socioeconomic characteristics influence marriage and that their influences are largely independent.

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