Serious Nerds Only: Qualifying Exam Reading Lists

In spring 2013 I’ll be taking my oral qualifying exams, which I need to pass in order to formally advance to PhD candidacy. The exams themselves are not a big deal, because your faculty advisors will not let you in to the conference room unless they know you’ll pass. The big deal is the sheer amount of preparation the exams require. Chalk these up as another reason why American PhDs take so long.

The rationale behind these exams is that you should be able to teach a complete undergraduate sociology class in each of three fields by the time you sit them. Everybody at Berkeley is required to take an exam in sociological theory, which is my NIGHTMARE. I am not a theory person. I am A Policy Person. The other two substantive areas are up to the student to decide. I chose stratification and political sociology, the latter with an emphasis on urban sociology. What follows is my reading list for political sociology. I have not yet drawn up the theory one because, like I said, NIGHTMARE. The stratification list needs a few additions. Anyway, here are approximately one-third of the books and journal articles I’ll be going through between now and April. I’ve already read some of them, but…well, I think I’m going to completely burn out what is left of my eyesight. And my bank balance. My poor, poor bank balance. If any of you reading this have been through the process before and you think there are any glaring omissions, please tell me. (Obviously, I can’t cover everything in depth because I would like to finish this PhD before I’m 50.) Otherwise, if you need me, I’ll be trawling the used offerings on Amazon and listening to John Head doing Shack’s “Cornish Town” solo over and over. The latter is waiting for you at the end of the list.


Essential Theory

Marx (1978) [1846]. “The German Ideology,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton.

Bourdieu. (1994) “Rethinking the State: Genesis and Structure of the Bureaucratic Field,” Sociological Theory  12:1-18.

Foucault. (1991) “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gramsci. (1971) “State and Civil Society,” in Selections from the Prison Notebooks.

Lukes. (2005) [1974] Power: A Radical View. New York: MacMillan.

Weber, Max. 1958 [1919]. “Politics as a Vocation” “Bureaucracy,” and “Class, Status, and Power,” in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.


State Formation

Bendix. (1969) Nation Building and Citizenship. New York: Anchor Books.

Poggi. (1978) The Development of the Modern State: A Sociological Introduction. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Skocpol. (1979) States and Revolutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tilly. (1992) Coercion, Capital, and European States. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.


Welfare States

Brady, Kiser and Beckfield. (2005) “Economic Globalization and the Welfare State in Affluent

Democracies, 1970-2000.” American Sociological Review 70: 921-948.

Esping-Andersen. (1990) The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Huber and Stephens. (2001) The Development and Crisis of the Welfare State: Parties and Policies in Global Markets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Korpi and Palme. (1998) “The Paradox of Redistribution and Strategies of Equality: Welfare State Institutions, Inequality, and Poverty in the Western Countries,” American Sociological Review 63: 661-87.

Marshall. (1963) “Citizenship and Social Class,” in Class, Citizenship, and Social Development.  New York: Doubleday.

Pierson. (1995) Dismantling the Welfare State? Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Piven and Cloward. (1972) Regulating the Poor. New York: Random House

Quadagno. (1987) “Theories of the Welfare State.” Annual Review of Sociology 13.

Steensland. (2006) “Cultural Categories and the American Welfare State: The Case of Guaranteed

Income Policy.” American Journal of Sociology 111: 1273-1326.

Weir, Orloff, and Skocpol. (1998) The Politics of Social Policy in the United States.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press.

Policy Development

Campbell. (2004) Institutional Change and Globalization. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Dobbin. (1994) Forging Industrial Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Domhoff. (1996) State Autonomy or Class Dominance: Case Studies on Policy Making in America. Piscataway: Aldine Transaction.

Hall. (1993) “Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain,” Comparative Politics, 25(3):275-296.

Sewell, Jr. (1992). “A Theory of Structure: Duality, Agency, and Transformation,” American Journal of Sociology, 98(1): 1-29.

Weir. (1992) “Ideas and the Politics of Bounded Innovation,” in Structuring Politics; Steinmo, Thelen, and Longstreth (eds). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press .

Weir and Skocpol. (1985) “State Structures and the Possibilities for ‘Keynesian’ Responses to the

Great Depression in Sweden, Britain, and the United States,” in Bringing the State Back In. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Governing Process

Bartels. (2008) Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Dahl. (1961) Who Governs? New Haven: Yale University Press (selections)

de Tocqueville. (1969 ed.) Democracy in America. New York: Harper Perennial. (selections)

Mills. (1992 ed) “The Power Elite,” in Social Stratification : Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective, D. B. Grusky, ed., New York: Westville Press.

Schumpeter. (1962) Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, New York: Perennial. (selections)


Urban Sociology: Formation, Positioning, and Globalization

Hamnett. Unequal City: London in the Global Arena

Hannerz. Exploring the City: Inquiries Toward an Urban Anthropology

Logan and Molotch. (1987) Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sassen. Cities in a World Economy

Sassen. Global City: New York, London, Tokyo.

Wirth.  (1938) “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” American Journal of Sociology 44:1-24.

Park and Burgess. (1967)[1925] The City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Urban Sociology: Crisis and Social Problems

Gamm. (1991) Urban Exodus. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Harvey.  (1973) Social Justice and the City.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Harvey. (1978) “The Urban Process under Capitalism: A Framework For Analysis.”  International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.  2:101-131.

Massey and Denton. (1993) American Apartheid. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Sampson. (2012) Great American City.Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

South and  Crowder.  (1997) “Escaping Distressed Neighborhoods: Individual, Community, and

Metropolitan Influences.” American Journal of Sociology 102:1040-84.

Squires  and  Kubrin. (2005) “Privileged Places: Race, Uneven Development, and the Geography of Opportunity in Urban America.” Urban Studies 42:47-68.

Sugrue. (1998) The Origins of the Urban Crisis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tach. (2009) “More than Bricks and Mortar: Neighborhood Frames, Social Processes, and the Mixed-Income Redevelopment of a Public Housing Project.” City and Community 8(3):269-299.

Teaford. (1986) The Twentieth-Century American City. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wilson. (1990) The Truly Disadvantaged. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wilson. (1997) When Work Disappears. New York: Vintage.


Urban Sociology: Community and Spatial Outcomes

Briggs. (2010) Moving to Opportunity: The Story of an American Experiment to Fight Ghetto Poverty. New York: Oxford University Press.

Brooks-Gunn et al. (1993) “Do Neighborhoods Influence Child and Adolescent Development?”

American Journal of Sociology 99: 353-95.

Gans. (1965) The Urban Villagers.  New York: The Free Press.

Morenoff and Sampson. (1997) “Violent Crime and the Spatial Dynamics of Neighborhood Transition: Chicago, 1970-1990.” Social Forces 76:31-64.

Sampson and Raudenbush. (1999 ) “Systematic Social Observation of Public Spaces: A New Look at

Disorder in Urban Neighborhoods” American Journal of Sociology 105, 3:603-651.

Swaroop and Morenoff. (2006) “Building Community: The Neighborhood Context of Social Organization.”  Social Forces 84:1665-1695.

Power and Houghton. (2007) Jigsaw Cities. Bristol: The Policy Press.

Ravetz. (2001) Council Housing and Culture: The History of a Social Experiment. London: Routledge.

“Close your eyes and come and cross my street, and I will take you there if you will come with me.” That’s a great line, everyone. That. Is. A. Line.


Now this is cool

See the Guardian’s interactive map of where bombs fell on London on the first night of the Blitz.

I love maps. I love London. Not so big a fan of war, but it’s important to know history, so here you go: Where bombs fell on London this day in 1940 – the first night of the Blitz.

The northernmost bomb hit Eade Road, off Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury Park. I would say that Eade Road still looks like a bomb site today, but…eh, it’s not that bad, just dull. Second northernmost hit just down the street from where I used to live in Holloway. Reckon they were aiming for the railways…

Today, Eade Road is home to the appropriately-named Low Profile House. Hurr hurrrrrr.

What is it good for?

Right now I’m teaching Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment to my undergrads. Because it’s a methodology course, not a social psych one, an important point I want to drill into their heads is how empirical studies come from the need to address gaps in theory, and then after they’re completed you have to tie your results back into theory so that your work has a meaning beyond the specific context in which it took place. It’s not about some people in a lab in Connecticut, it’s about applications to everyday situations, it’s about agentic states and binding factors, it’s about being conditioned from early childhood that Bad Things Happen when you disobey authorities. I was diagramming everything on the chalkboard, and when I finally brought it all back to the beginning I felt the way gymnasts look when they stick a landing. Done. Nailed it. I saw a few lights go on in student heads, and that’s the fulfilling bit – knowing that you’ve just made what seems like a fuddy-duddy experiment from the early 1960s seem relevant and important in the year 2012.

The things you read about in textbooks can sometimes seem so divorced from current reality that I almost can’t blame undergrads for not being intrigued. But the wonderful thing about sociology is that problems obviously aren’t going to be solved any time soon, so there’s always space for applications to the world around you. Milgram devised his experiment in the wake of the trials of Nazis who argued that they were only following orders when they killed millions of Jews, Roma, disabled people, and others. He aimed to show that these weren’t “monsters” so different from you and me, but that everyday people can be led to do things that go counter to their personal morality because the pull of staying obedient to authority is just that strong. That’s still relevant every single day of every single human life on this planet, from the tiniest act of a rebellious child to the mass murder of war zones.

Yesterday I saw the Man Ray & Lee Miller exhibit at the Legion of Honor here in San Francisco. To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the work of either of them. I knew of Man Ray, but had never heard of Lee Miller (and had assumed she was a he – oops). While the two of them are known for pioneering surrealist work, I was far more impressed by Miller’s photography of World War II in Europe.

This is the daughter of the mayor of Leipzig. She and her parents, aware that the Allies were going to take the city, killed themselves with poison. Her skin looks so perfect because the shelling around the city hall caused white plaster dust to fall all over the bodies. I have no qualms about viewing the corpses of people whose ideology insisted that my people were life unworthy of life. For all I know, her father sent thousands of Jews to tortured, agonizing deaths. I know that the “right thing to do” is to never rejoice in anyone’s death, but, hey, I got a disturbing and quiet sense of satisfaction from seeing Miller’s photos of how the twisted and hateful ideology they followed turned about and lead these people – who once held the power to dictate life and death – to kill themselves. They ended up in the same place as the people they persecuted: dead and gone. Mind you, they got to choose their time and manner of death. I can look this corpse and shrug. So you killed yourself because you were on the losing side? Your parents were going so you did, too? Whatever, you got what you deserved. Hardly the most enlightened viewpoint, I know. Hardly the nuanced it’s-more-complicated-than-that thinking you’d expect from a sociologist, I know. Tough.

This is a dead Dachau guard in a canal. Again, it’s interesting that I can look at this corpse and not feel any negative emotion. I know, I know, I’m supposed to be all enlightened from studying experiments like Milgram’s, but…nah. He got what he deserved. And even after death, he gets more dignity than the people he watched over in the death camp. How many pictures have I seen of dead Jewish men, women, and children thrown in heaps, in mass graves? They had their heads shaved, they were starved, they were stripped of their uniforms and left undignified in the open air. This man at least got to keep his clothes on for the camera. Miller’s photo made me think of how the piles of corpses in the death camps were newsreel fodder, none of them individuals, just statistics. Are we supposed to care about one man after all that? When the tables are turned and the oppressor becomes the victim, it’s slightly jarring, but death is death – sucks to be you. The Jews were made anonymous in the camps, but then again so were the thousands of rank-and-file Nazis carrying out the atrocities. The only differences were status and power – but those make a hell of a huge difference. (And even that’s an understatement. All sociology is the study of status and power.) The way I see it, if my people had to suffer those indignities, why the hell should I care about their killers getting a taste of the same? I don’t care about this man as an individual. I don’t want to be diplomatic and thoughtful and think about the evidence that shows how and why people obey orders to harm others – though I know I bloody well should, it’s only what I’m building my entire career around. And I usually take so much pride in practicality.

We all think that we would be the person to stand up to the experimenter and say, no, I’m not doing this, there’s no way in hell I’m going to push that button and shock a man who has never done anything to hurt me. Milgram showed, by controlling for loads of variables, that we probably wouldn’t be so special and heroic. Any one of us could become that “monster.” For this reason, I should probably have more empathy/sympathy for people like, say, German civilians who got swept up in the racist fervor of their time. They were just like all of us, right? We could have been in the same situation, right? The evidence is right here in front of me, and I’m big on evidence-based policy, right? But I’m going to be a total unreasonable hypocrite because that reminds me I’m only human. I have no sympathy.

In college I really enjoyed the poets of the First World War, like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Poetry for them wasn’t some abstract concept, but a way to deal with the atrocities taking place right in front of them. The men with their guns, identical and anonymous in uniform, all capable of taking the lives of people whose names they would never know, were still emotional people needing to cope with extraordinary times. I never want to read another Robert Frost poem, but I could happily devour loads more Owen for the same reason I’d read a novel: it shows me a life I don’t lead, and (thankfully) never will.

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-heads
Which long to muzzle in the hearts of lads.
Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.

For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
And God will grow no talons at his heels,
Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls. 

Arms and the Boy by Wilfred Owen

Let’s go back to the beginning…and tie it all into Milgram. In one of the many variations of his experiment, he found that if the “victim” and the subject were forced to sit close together, the subject would be more reluctant to administer the electric shock. If the victim was in another room, the subject was more obedient to the commands to continue shocking the victim even if he was pounding on the wall or screaming. There’s nothing quite like seeing the harm people do to each other right up close. In modern warfare, we launch missiles from miles away, we drop bombs from planes that are well clear of the area by the time the damn thing explodes, we use drones so that there is essentially no single human being to blame for the carnage. We don’t stare our enemy in the eyes the way the men in the trenches of the First World War had to do, but soldiers still come back traumatized. We still recognise death and suffering, even when it’s diminished by time or distance. Maybe not as much as we should do, maybe not enough to stand up and try to stop anything, but we’re not untouched. We’re only human. And we need documentarians, either with pictures or with words, to make us stare these things in the face and remind us how close we are to our most depraved, violent impulses.

More later. I’m off to bed.

See also Philip Jones Griffiths