some of us are brave

The Three Rs in 2015: Reading, ‘Riting and Researching

This is the obligatory end-of-year essay.

In 2015, I finished a seven-year-long research project called my doctoral dissertation. The study analyzes why for-profit colleges were the singular form of higher education expansion in the late 20th and early 21st century in the U.S. Data are from: interviews with for-profit college executives, students enrolled in the fastest-growing sub-sector of for-profit college credentialing (graduate degrees), admissions data and Securities and Exchange Commission filings of the publicly-traded for-profit colleges where most of the sector’s growth and profit occurred. Theoretically, the work owes a significant debt to David K. Brown and David B. Bills work on status competition theories of educational expansion. Thanks to that project I won Emory University’s Laney Graduate School award for doctoral leadership.

I use quantitative and qualitative textual analysis in that project. That work informed some of my thoughts in a forthcoming paper on textual analysis across disciplines. That paper, in Debates in Digital Humanities, slices off a small part of the discussion I had in my dissertation about the political economy of the data produced for markets and publics in various forms of discourse analysis. I owe a big intellectual debt to Roberto Franzosi’s early work on computational models, programs, and socio-linguistics in that paper.

Another paper touches on what I consider my second line of research as a tenure-track professor: the deployment of digital assemblages, platforms and discourses in social processes that sociologists understand as an interlocking set of categorical inequalities. I discussed how race, class, and gender mitigate returns to micro-celebrity within the neoliberal era of the corporate university. I’m a big fan of Sheila Slaughter, Gary Rhoades, Gaye Tuchman and Elizabeth Berman’s work on how we got the university system we currently have. It seemed to me that the “democratization” narratives embedded in digital tools like new media outlets and social media networking sites obscures both the structural realities of the universities where we use them and the group differences among those who have to use them to get and keep their academic bona fides. It was a scary paper to write. The ADA editorial process was divine. I am excited to continue that conversation with the growing number of sociologists working on digital sociologies, like Mark Carrigan. Mark is kind of scary smart, by the way.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 10.59.14 AM.png

One regret from that paper: that Maria Azocar and Myra Marx Ferree’s latest on gendered expertise (in Gender & Society) wasn’t out yet when I wrote it! I looked for the perfect articulation of how I was grappling with “expertise” as I was writing that paper and, of course, Azocar and Ferree were apparently nailing it in another dimension. *shakes fist at sky*

While doing all of this I started a wonderful job at Virginia Commonwealth University. This semester I taught some of the most engaged and committed students I have ever met in two courses: “Minorities in the U.S.” and “Sociological Theory”. My students have said that the class was transformative for them. I know that it certainly transformed me.

I teach the “Minorities in the U.S.” course as a survey of classic and contemporary sociological theories of race (and to a lesser extent ethnicity) with an emphases on institutions (although we discuss ideologies, identities and culture). We read L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy’s book, “Inequality in the Promised Land”, to anchor the institutional discussion of how schooling interacts with and reproduces racial inequalities.

Because of what I do and how I do it, the course has a significant focus on applying sociological concepts to contemporary case studies from media, politics, and culture. VCU students are incredibly diverse, by every definition. I stretched to make sure we complicated the black-white binary while reinforcing that the binary still defines that racial hierarchy. That meant relying heavily on groups like the Teaching With A Sociological Lens group on Facebook for examples that go beyond black and white in race literature. Students seemed especially engaged with the discussion of 1) black ethnic immigrants 2) interracial mating (and assortative mating more broadly) and 3) recent work on Asian American men-black women and colorism in online dating. (I mention all of this in case anyone has any teaching tips to share).

Along the way, I reviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates’ award-winning “Between The World and Me” for The Atlantic. I followed that with a series of essays on various inequalities in The Atlantic as well as my ongoing contributions at Dissent Magazine (as a contributing editor and fan).

I was also honored to travel to South Africa this year at UNISA’s invitation. The conference on open and distance education had a global perspective and some of the most engaging scholars I have ever shared space with on topics of technology, institutions, and learning. Seriously, I’d wrestle a small, docile pig for this kind of discourse around technology, institutions and education to happen regularly in the U.S.


Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.19.11 AM.png

Click for Storify


On the issue of fun stuff you get to do when you really like your job, I joined the Postbourgie podcast for a far-ranging conversation on race, culture and bad “good black men” memes. I also got to talk about education and technology on an all-woman panel, courtesy of Joanne McNeil and Eyebeam. All these women talked about manly-man computers and stuff and no one died. Moving from fun to glee-inducing tremors, I spent a several hours as part of the “Grasping at the Root” conference talking about the political economy of credentialism and educational justice. I say glee-inducing because any time I get to share space with Sandy Darity, Darrick Hamilton, Stephanie Kelton and a room full of engaged thinkers talking about the nuts-and-bolts of sustainable change? My joy becomes embodied.

I wrapped up a glorious run at The Message this year, where I’d talked about various forms of tech and inequality things. By far, I think the most read story there ended up being about the social signaling of Twitter “favorites“. Go figure.

On a more personal note (more personal that joyful tremors?), I am reflecting on what the last six or seven years have meant for me. For professional reasons I had to search myself recently (something I never, ever do). I realized that while I was working some amazing thinkers, scholars and writers were having conversations I would like to share. With gratitude, I’ll be catching up with those who have cited me:

  1. Resilience & Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism Robin James. John Hunt Publishing.
  2. Waste of a White Skin: The Carnegie Corporation and the Racial Logic of White VulnerabilityTiffany Willoughby-Herard. University of California Press.
  3. Decolonizing Educational Research: From Ownership to Answerability, Leigh Patel. Routledge.
  4. Autobiography of a Blue-eyed Devil: My Life and Times in a Racist, Imperialist Society, Inga Muscio. Seven Stories Press.
  5. Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength, Chanequa Walker-Barnes. Wipf and Stock Publishers.
  6. 9/11 and Collective Memory in US Classrooms: Teaching About Terror, Cheryl Lynn Duckworth. Routledge.
  7. ” The Gender of Trademarking and Luxury Branding” in The Luxury Economy and Intellectual Property: Critical Reflections, Ann Bartow. Oxford University Press (.pdf).
  8. Performing Ground: Space, Camouflage and the Art of Blending In, Laura Levin. Palgrave MacMillan.
  9. Corporations and Citizenship, Greg Urban. University of Pennsylvania Press
  10. The Coming Swarm: DDOS Actions, Hacktivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet, Molly Sauter. Bloomsbury Academic.  

It’s a pretty amazing collection and I am well nigh floored. But I have to say that one of the funn(i)est reads for me is Muscio putting me in conversation with Eldridge Cleaver:


Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.54.42 AM.png

So, what’s next? My book, “Lower Ed” remains forthcoming. Sue me, I was busy dissertating. But, The New Press has confirmed it is on schedule for a release this Fall (2016). The opening chapters are already circulating and being put to use in sociology of (higher) education courses thanks to some really dedicated colleagues who requested it. We’re also beginning to hammer out a book event schedule (starting at Red Emmas perhaps??).

I am apparently also going to the White House, think-tanking at Stanford, serving at Sociologists for Women in Society, talking about the hip-hop tracks that changed my life with Rhymes & Reason, working on a disciplinary read of digital inequalities with Karen Gregory and Jessie Daniels, teaching a graduate seminar on race and digital sociology, and starting a new project.

Thank you for an amazing 2015, readers and friends and colleagues and tweeps. See you in 2016.



25 comments on “The Three Rs in 2015: Reading, ‘Riting and Researching

  1. Mia Zamora (@MiaZamoraPhD)
    January 4, 2016

    Thanks for so many new additions to my reading list, and thanks for the continued inspiration.
    To 2016!
    Mia Zamora

  2. grouchosis
    December 29, 2015

    Thanks for the update and extra thanks for the shout out.

  3. Susan
    December 29, 2015

    Congratulations on a busy and successful year! I hope teaching and writing continues to be as satisfying in the year ahead.

  4. nicoleandmaggie
    December 29, 2015

    That’s amazing that you have a book forthcoming already! If you were in my dept, you would be eligible to go up for early tenure once it comes out.

    Will you be interfacing with Carolyn Hoxby while at Stanford? I’ve been really interested in how her work on for-profits intersects with your work. (Also: Shelley Correll is amazing!)

    • Dahn Shaulis
      December 30, 2015

      If you are genuinely interested in learning about predatory for-profit colleges, you should contact the Debt Collective and the student groups involved, including the Corinthian Collective, the ITT Tech Warriors, I Am Ai, and the Phoenix Fraud Fighters.

      SEIU (Tiffany Kraft) is also involved through ForProfitU.

      • katherinejlegry
        December 30, 2015

        What do you mean “if Dahn’s really interested in learning…” and then re-directing this person? I understand expanding on the information, but you’re sounding like Tressie doesn’t know her sh*t. And she’s been working her way up and knows what’s what… so um… maybe check out her mammoth work(s) if you haven’t… as it sounds like you haven’t…and you can learn more about “predatory for-profit colleges”

        • tressiemc22
          January 6, 2016

          No worries, Katherine. I probably know better than do strangers all the work that I do. 🙂 And, trust me, very little of it is on the Internet because that’s sometimes the best way to do organizing.

        • Dahn Shaulis
          January 6, 2016

          I have read her work.

          • katherinejlegry
            January 7, 2016

            I wrote that wrong anyhow, Dahn. You were telling Nicole and Maggie if they were “really interested” they could check out your links and I meant to rhetorically ask you why you felt Tressie wasn’t cutting the mustard without your re-direct. But, as Tressie has indicated she’s doing the work and proof is in the pudding.

            I’m a long time reader of her blog and I tend to get defensive of her work (whether this is necessary or not) because I value it tremendously.

            I’m sure your work is of value too. Peace.

            • Dahn Shaulis
              January 7, 2016

              Katherine, your apology is accepted.

              My concern has been that academics and activists are not talking to each other, and few people choose to do both (Dubois is often considered a model for this, but even he had problems with fully including people like Ida B. Wells).

              We are living in times of increasing inequality where people will have to take sides. As historian and activist Howard Zinn said “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

              Today, most US college teachers are adjuncts. One quarter of those adjuncts rely on public assistance.

              And many students, as you know, are saddled with a debt that promises to keep them in a lifetime of debt peonage.

              The student groups I mentioned are very new and they need support. The Debt Collective has been helpful but they have limited resources. Besides the students, the movement needs educators, activist lawyers, and other skilled people who make up a vibrant resistance.

            • katherinejlegry
              January 7, 2016

              Okay, but I’m not apologizing to you, Dahn…

              Just clarifying.

              I am also not arguing with what you are saying… it’s good and well to add to the discussion and attempt to get people talking.

              I was taking to task the structure of your sentence which made your tone sound like you were saying Tressie’s work was “Ivy league” and so not accessible or as far reaching. I know now you didn’t mean it like that. I know Tressie also doesn’t need me duking any of this out for her.

              I am aware of and have read those books you’ve cited. Thank you.

      • tressiemc22
        January 6, 2016

        Dahn, I know all those folks and talk to some of them on a regular basis. Thanks.

        • Dahn Shaulis
          January 6, 2016

          I was not aware that you were talking to those folks. May I ask who you have spoken to?

          • tressiemc22
            January 6, 2016


            • Dahn Shaulis
              January 7, 2016

              Tressie, I have been working on for-profit colleges and higher education also, not as an academic but as an activist. HBCUs, tribal colleges, community colleges, and other schools with small endowments (e.g. some Christian schools) are in peril of having to downsize, losing their autonomy, or shutting down.

              As you may know, I am regularly culture jamming the Internet and working on strategic alliances among students, academics, media people, community groups, lawyers, and business analysts.

              My concern is that, except for a few exceptions (e.g. Marc Bousquet, Suzanne Mettler, Henry Giroux, Frances Fox-Piven, Angela Davis), academia is not taking inequality and higher education as seriously as they need to.

              Moreover, few academics are involved in the movement to challenge neoliberalism: the prime mover of our degrading (and increasingly undemocratic) political economy. Many more in academia are rewarded for keeping this oppressive system going in the wrong direction.

              Even unions (e.g. AFT and AAUP) are not doing very much to address the problems of increasing inequality (yes, I read your very informative article in the AFT Higher Ed magazine). I have talked to Craig Smith, Dan Pedrotty, and others at AFT and they refused to take any bold action.

              Joe Berry and COCAL have been working on adjunct justice for years but get little support from tenured folks. They are fighting the business-model tsunami.

              I have found some allies, including DC journalist and activist David Halperin, former Senate staffer Carrie Wofford (of the Harkin Commission), Tiffany Kraft (SEIU), and Ana Marie Fores Tamayo (New Faculty Majority). But there needs to be a more concentrated, orchestrated effort among students and teachers.

              I have found that the for-profit college students themselves, as well as a few adjuncts, have been the driving force in resisting this inequality. These groups identify themselves as the Corinthian Collective (Everest Avengers), ITT Tech Warriors, I Am Ai, and Phoenix Fraud Fighters.

              Although I have no close ties to the Debt Collective, I share much of my information to them. The Debt Collective has created the strongest resistance so far, with their promotion of the “defense to repayment” strategy.

              The California Attorney General has also been responsive.

              Words are not enough. What we need are more Ella Bakers, E.P. Thompsons, and Angela Davises to help the working class. I am hoping you will be a combination.


            • tressiemc22
              January 7, 2016

              So you don’t know who I know or what I know or what i do but do feel like I am not Ella Baker? Well neither are you or anyone else. Let’s not do this again. Good luck to you.

          • tressiemc22
            January 6, 2016

            I mean, really, have we met? Why would you know? Why would I tell you? What is happening here?

            • Dahn Shaulis
              January 7, 2016

              We have not met. I hope that we can be on the same team–but if we aren’t then I can understand your reluctance to share. I am on the side of the working class.

              I also understand that being too radical in academia can hurt a person’s chance at tenure.

            • tressiemc22
              January 7, 2016

              What you are is insulting.

            • Dahn Shaulis
              January 7, 2016

              I’m not sure what parts you consider insulting. Most people in academia take the path of least resistance and are willing to go along with mainstream thought and the business model of education.

              And very few people in other parts of society are willing to risk their jobs for social justice, even in organizations that are supposed to work for social justice.

              The education business is full of corruption from both sides of the aisle and few people will address all of it, for political reasons. Laureate, Apollo Global, and Devry, threaten not only US democracy, but democratic efforts around the globe.

              Obviously, the Republicans are worse, but the Democrats involved include the Clintons (Laureate), Nancy Pelosi (Apollo Group), Dianne Feinstein (through her husband, California Regent Richard Blum who has owned significant shares of ITT Education and Career Education Corporation), Heather Podesta (Devry), Al Sharpton and Suze Ormann (Apollo Group) and so many others.

              I appreciate the work of exceptional people (activist teachers like Diane Ravitch and Danny Weil, journalist Glen Ford, business analyst Taylor Mann and the others I previously mentioned, for example).

              I hope you will consider being one of the exceptions and join in the resistance.

            • tressiemc22
              January 21, 2016

              I don’t care what you hope I do, Dahn. What you hoped is that insults would garner you my attention. What you continue to hope is that somehow my reading comprehension is off. The fact remains that you know absolutely nothing about what I do or don’t do that isn’t shared here. You presume to think that i owe you some explanation of my activities, who I know and what I do. And I am confused about why you think you deserve to know that. You can go two ways. You can make me want to tell you by being someone I want to talk to. Or you can have some kind of authority over me that compels me to tell you. You have not demonstrated either. Of course, you were insulting me. That was the point of directing people to “real” work. And then the insinuation that I am out-of-touch. And then the nearly explicit claim that I don’t do anything for the “struggle”. Let me tell you something, Dahn. My black female ass could wake up every day and exist and I’d be doing enough for the struggle. You don’t set agendas for me and you don’t get to question me about the agenda I set for myself. Appreciate whomever you like. I was never courting your appreciation.

            • Dahn Shaulis
              January 23, 2016

              Tressie, I do not assume you are “out of touch.” What I assume now is that you have accepted neoliberal values. That will serve you well in academia.

  5. Dahn Shaulis
    December 29, 2015

    Sadly. for-profit colleges continue to prey upon the working class: single mothers and middle-aged folks, military veterans, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, and others. And they are backed by both sides of the aisle, including the Clintons.

Talk back...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on December 29, 2015 by in Uncategorized and tagged .
%d bloggers like this: