[Maarten Van Horenbeeck]

Annotated Sociology Bibliography

In 2006 I started maintaining this annotated bibliography on sociology. It contains articles, books and websites on a wide variety of risk related topics. Each article is condensed into its bare essence.

Johnson, S. (2005) Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. New York: Riverhead Books

The author argues that popular culture, which includes games, reality TV and complex narratives such as 24, are in fact not dumbing us down but making us smarter. Games teach us to probe and telescope. The former entails engaging with the environment, creating hypothesis about what will happen, matching the actual result with our hypothesis, and rethink or accept the hypothesis. The latter involves managing simultaneous objectives and prioritizing them. In essence, gaming helps form decisionmaking skills. Television has put increasing demands on cognition through increased threading and larger social networks; while still offering some 'flashing arrows' that indicate aspects of interest - people do not need to understand everything but need to feel comfortable that they will understand what matters, it.s about trust (example: ER). Television and film have organically become more complex as society allowed programs to be viewed multiple times: revealing more of the plot at each viewing. Reality television offers a unique opportunity to see true emotion and learn social skills and study complex social networks.

Philosopher James Flynn identified a significant rise in the IQ levels of the .medium smart. population: those that do not have extremely high IQs. After evaluating different potential causes, the author attributes this to the sleeper curve, named after a Woody Allen book in which scientists cannot understand chocolate fudgies were once thought of as .unhealthy.. It also refers to the Bell curve: other research that identified a gap between white and black IQ scores. The sleeper curve straddles along economics, technology and neurology. Economics is present through a large entertainment ecosystem. Re-runs of shows and DVD sales now contribute more to profits than initial plays and complexity of events allows the creation of social experts that are not financially remunerated but through social gains (such as people posting on movie forums). He identifies the Most Repeatable Program model as opposed to Least Objectionable Programming, where everyone starts out with identical market share and then loses share based on certain actions (developed by NBC exec Paul Klein).

Gladwell, M. (2000) The Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference. New York: Little, Brown & Company.

Gladwell identifies a .tipping point. as a point in time where a trend crosses a threshold, tips and gains dominance within a certain population. He identifies three dominant rules: the law of the few, the stickiness factor and the power of context. The law of the few states a requirement for three types of people: .connectors., people that know lots of people and are able to bring them in contact with eachother; .salesmen., people that are able to persuasively sell ideas to others and .mavens.: people that are able to identify the best of the best and are generally trusted by others.

The stickiness factor states that there is a simple way to package information that makes it irresistible. Sometimes this factor may be a bit counterintuitive: a spelling error in a name may be required to enable people to memorize it better, or using cheaper and less optimal advertising times may, combined with a good idea, lead to better sales results of a marketing campaign. The key is to think and test.

The power of context reveals itself in how the environment has a very significant impact on actions and beliefs. It reverbs with the Broken Window theory of criminology (rooted in urban decay, developed by W. Kelling and C. Coles), which claims that in an environment with high amounts of petty crime, there is significant risk for more extensive forms of crime. In New York, a general decrease in criminality at the end of the 90s is often linked to its implementation of Broken Window theory on a major transport artery . the subway. Some examples of the power of context cited by Gladwell include the link between voting for Republican presidential candidates, viewership of the ABC and the way its news anchor smiled when talking about the party.s candidate. Another example includes the use of bouncing balls in advertising (that motivate the viewer to move his head up and down, leading to an approving posture to the message). Emotions are not only created internally, but result out of external movement as well.

Generally, people are not well enough aware of the biases in their interpretation of the world. The Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) explores how people generally consider character as much more important to other people.s decision, and situation much more applicable to their own decisions. Finally, he applies each of the above concepts to a surge in teenage suicides in Micronesia, identifying how each of the three types of people were involved in a hard to stop social .epidemic. caused by a tipping point.

Gladwell, M. (2005) Blink: the power of thinking without thinking. New York: Little, Brown & Company.

In this book, Gladwell investigates the way that people sometimes make split-second decisions, in the .blink. of an eye. He explains the theory of thin slicing: how experienced people use little information to make a well balanced decision instead of endlessly pondering on all information available to them.

Using the example of a researcher that developed the SPAFF or Specific Affect methodology, which can be used to predict whether or not marriages will last based on a limited set of parameters in intra-couple communication, he shows how people naturally feel they need more information, but generally .thin-slice. systemic, unpredictable events.

In addition, he shows how truly embedded prejudice . such as people belonging to certain minorities being more likely to perform criminal acts, or be less successful in life, have a wide influence in the lives of those people. When reminded of their race prior to their test, young black people scored significantly less in research performed by Aronson and Steele. We do not realize it, but our preconceptions about ourselves have a significant impact on performance and success.

He also identifies Ekman.s micro expressions and how they can be used to identify the exact mood and sometimes even thoughts of an individual. It also shows how autistic people are generally unable to identify moods and take expressions at any other than face value.

Levitt, S.D. & Dubner, S. J. (2006) Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. London: Penguin Books.

Freakonomics performs a statistical review of many uncharted pieces of today.s world and economy. The entire book is really a conversation between the author, Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt. They explore the untainted correlations and causes between different social events and the underlying economic reasoning.

This is refreshing, as they attempt to move under the political use that is often made of different events. They apply economical methodology to cheating by school teachers and Japanese sumo wrestlers; the Ku Klux clan and how in the end they are dominantly attempting to gather wealth instead of support a political agenda; how the job of drug dealer only pays well to the very top of the industry; how the decrease in crime in the United States at the end of the 90s is closely related to the acceptability in law of abortion in the United States (with a blink to Romania under Ceauçescu) and how far parents actually influence their children.

A wide agenda for a single book, and there is no all-encompassing theory being put forward. Nevertheless, the specific investigations made do encourage you to think differently about society and why it runs in certain ways.