Friday, January 28, 2011

The Functions of Social Conflict

The Functions of Social Conflict: By Lewis A. Coser
When I stated reading Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien’s classic studies on knowledge gap, I thought they were Marxists, because they used the concept knowledge gap to deal with the inequalities caused by mass media. They argued that the mass media had a function similar to that of other social institutions: that of reinforcing or increasing existing inequities. This really smells like Marxism.
But CC told me I was wrong. “ They have nothing to do with Marxism. A democratic society also asks for equalities.” He said. I have to admit that this is kind of stereotype I have towards the westerns who concern about the moral issues within the social structure. The subtext is that not everyone except the Marxists would concern about that in the capitalist society.
In Marxism, inequalities are really bad things. But in Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien’s opinion, inequalities are not so bad. They quoted Lewis A. Coser many times, which indicated that they agreed with Coser ideas on social conflicts. For Coser social conflicts functioned as vaccines to the society. To some extend, social conflicts would make the society stronger. So, the knowledge gap and the inequalities caused by mass media may not bad things.

An Analysis of the Arguments in Three Papers

McCombs and Shaw in their study The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media made an arguments that the mass media set the agenda for each political campaign, influencing the salience of attitudes toward the political issues, because the media appeared to have exerted a considerable impact on voters' judgments of what they considered the major issues of the campaign, based on the finds from the Chapel Hill voters survey in 1968 that there were strong correlation between the major item emphasis on the main campaign issues carried by the media and voters' independent judgments of what were the important issues.
In Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien’s study Mass Media Flow and Differential Growth in Knowledge, they made an argument that as the infusion of mass media information into a social system increased, segments of the population with higher socioeconomic status tended to acquire this information at a faster rate than the lower status segments, so that the gap in knowledge between these segments tended to increase rather than decrease, because the mass media had a function similar to that of other social institutions: that of reinforcing or increasing existing inequities, and highly educated persons were more likely to have been exposed to a heavily publicized topic in the past, based on the findings from one experiment which indicated a correlation between education and the understanding of certain issues with different levels of publicity.
In a following research of Tichenor, Donohue, and Olien, Mass Media and the Knowledge Gap: A Hypothesis Reconsidered, they found in the surveys that for the sixteen Minnesota communities as a whole, the size of the knowledge gap was only weakly related to the newspaper coverage index and in a negative direction. These findings suggested that the original hypothesis, however well supported by previous data, may not hold for all situations. So they made several modifications of the general knowledge gap hypothesis by employing some new variables:
1.     Where the issue appears to arouse general concern for a community as a whole, knowledge about that issue is more likely to become evenly distributed across educational status levels.
2.     This equalization is more likely to occur when the issue develops in a climate of social conflict.
3.     Such equalization in knowledge is more likely to occur in a small, homogeneous community than in a large, pluralistic one.
4.     Knowledge gaps on specific issues, if they appear initially, may tend to decline as public attention wanes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Guanxi is a key concept in Chinese society. It is about how people are connected and the structure within Chinese society. The words like relationships, connections, or personal ties can be translated into guanxi in Chinese. However, it doesn’t work well in turn. Translations like relationships, connections, and sphere of personal influence do not fully cover the central notions of guanxi.

Compared with the value free concepts like relationships, connections, and personal ties, guanxi is involved with social norms and ethics. For example, in Confucianism, relatives and friends are two kinds of basic guanxi in people’s daily life. The guanxi with relatives is involved with the social norm of filial piety, while the guanxi with friends is involved with the social norm of loyalty.

Guanxi is embedded in the Chaxu Geju (the pattern of difference sequence) in Chinese society. In the book Rural China, Professor Fei Xiaotong described the Chaxu Geju as the water traces after throwing a stone in the lake. The person is at the center point and people who have closer guanxi with the person are in the central circles. For example, family members are in the first central circle, close friends are in the second circle, acquaintances are in the third circle, and so on.

In a narrow sense, we can see that guanxi refers in particular to the relationships with relatives and friends. In a general sense, especial in the modernizing process from acquaintance society to stranger society, when we talk about guanxi, we focus on guanxi as important resources rather than emphasizing the social norms and Chaxu Geju. Guanxi can be accumulated and used to generate more guanxi. In such as view, guanxi can be also called social capital in a metaphorical sense.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I am Penny, you are Leonard

To statistics

I am Penny, you are Leonard
We are different,
But I love you.
Vice versa.

P.S. I have to reinstall the OS tonight, so I will write more tomorrow.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Finding short cuts

Professor Chen discussed the graph theory today, including some fundamental concepts and simple applications. What I felt most interested was the Dijkstra's algorithm.Dijkstra's algorithm is also called the greedy algorithm that I think it is easier to remember. It is greedy because "every decision it makes is the one with the most obvious immediate advantage".

Here is a demonstration on how the algorithm works.

Dijkstra's algorithm runtime

Porfessor Chen didn't go further into the details about the algorithm.We didn't go further into the details of the algorithm. But I felt that finding a short cut should be a good application of graph theory; not merely in the field of computer science, but also in social science, even in our daily life.

An obvious example for this algorithm is how to find the shortest way to build a highway between several cities. Or, if I want to make $73, what and how many bills and coins I shall choose to make sure that I take the largest possible bill or coin. Another application occurs to me is finding the shortest path in the network of links of searching results to get the most helpful information, or how to make up the shortest and most informative reading list for literature review among countless references. I am greedy too :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Theory 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0

Neil Postman in his book Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology pessimistically warned people there were three stages in human history, Tool-using-Technocracy-Technopoly. At the first stage, people had the ability to limit the tool-using. Until the technocracy stage, complex technologies like mechanical clock, printing machine, and telescope gradually created new culture other than melt in old culture. And now, we are in the technopoly stage, culture life bended to the throne of technology, and human have to search for the meaning of life in machines and technologies. As Neil Postman’s student, Paul Levinson proposed technology epistemology on the sublation of McLuhan’s communication technology determinism and Postman’s pessimism in light of the trend of digital technology. On one hand, his anthrotropic theory puts forward that technology will imitate or copy the way we feel and cognize, and will be more and more like real people. On the other hand, he proposed his technology epistemology, which expresses optimistic believe that we can control the media. If we use the newest technology tagging McLuhan, Postman, and Levinson, I think they can represent the web 1.0 or web 2.0. Comparing with them, Jean Baudrillard and his consumer society theory, his arguments about signs, simulacra, and implosion are more of web 3.0. The relationship of technology and us will be like users and their avatars in the 3D virtual game Second life, or like what the movie The Matrix predict.

Friday, January 21, 2011

debates vs. conversations

I used to be a member of the debate club in university. The biggest event in my first semester was a debating contest. I do not remember the topics now, but I still remember some details in preparations.

We usually had four or five players in a team, including one or two substitutes. Half of players prepared the arguments. The others prepared the counterarguments. Before the formal contest, we had two or three warm-ups. At the beginning, I didn't understand why I had to rack my brain for the negative side if I belonged to the affirmative side. However, the counterarguments we prepared turned out very useful, even much useful the our arguments in the real debating. Sometimes what the other side said was exactly what I had imaged. So my responses seemed prompt and easily hit the point.

The book The Craft of Research tells us that academic writings are conversations with readers. Well,the word "conversation" is elegant.In my opinion,it is more of a debate than a concersation. Readers are not merely your friends but also your friendenemies(friend+enemy).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reading Report: The Craft of Research, Part 3, Making a Claim and Supporting It

The word “craft” in the title reminds me of the distinction between scholars and craftsmen. Before the Renaissance, scholars and philosophers were supposed to master the arts other than the crafts. I remember Stephen Mason claimed in his work A History of the Sciences that the uniting of scholars and craftsmen gave birth to the modern science. So, learning arts as well as crafts has become scholars’ own business since then.

It is clear that the focus of the book The Craft of Research is some essentials in practicing scientific researches as techniques. The third part of the book deals with the most important part in scientific researches, making arguments. According to the authors, arguments are composed of claims, reasons, and evidence, and reinforced by acknowledgements and responses. Besides, the warrants linking claims and reasons are also discussed in this part.

Assume that there is an argument:

I claim that the communication technologies make the world a better place, because they make me happy, based on the example that I can call my parents at low cost.

The argument fits the basic formula; there is a claim, a reason, and evidence. However, it is not a good argument. If I was a skeptical reader, I would ask what are the definitions of “communication technologies” and “a better place” in the claim, because they are not clear; or being tougher, say that I don’t think this is an important issue worthy of study. Because the criteria for good claims are clarity and significance, but this claim fails to do so.

Moreover, the reason and the evidence seem weak. To support the claim, more than one reason will be needed. Skeptical readers would say there are plenty of better explanations than this one, or they do not think the reason and the claim are necessarily cause and effect. This is where the warrant lies. But in this argument, the warrant between the claim and reason is not so obvious. A more general circumstances and consequence should be stated in further explanation.

Last but not the least, the example in the argument may be the most apparent targets for critics. Readers would doubt that whether the example is representative enough or not? Further more, what if the evidence in the argument is some findings from a survey or an experiment, or some logical inferences drawn from theories? Are they accurate and precise enough?

As a conclusion, what impressed me most in this part is always keeping readers in mind and keeping questioning myself. The lists of questions that might arise from readers in the book are extremely valuable to young scholars who do not have so many readers yet.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the Voice from My Heart

When he told me that I was not allowed to mingle with male scholars in the same conference hall and he would drive me to the female campus of King Saud University in Riyadh, Mohammed was too shy to look into my eyes. He was a junior student of this university who served for the Conference. Honestly, I felt OK about this. Since, on one hand, my optimism always led me to the brighter side even when things were at their worst; on the other hand, it was not the first time I came across gender inconvenience. I was the only child of my parents who ran a small pharmacy in a middle province of China. Unfortunately, I was not a son as my grandparents hoped. Although I may not share the same amount of love from them like my cousins did, a loss may turn out to be a gain. I grew up without so much pressure from expectations and developed an optimistic character and self-confidence.

I kept being a top student since primary school because I enjoyed studying rather than to full fill parents’ vanity. I won the national competition on writing and mathematics because I felt interesting in playing with sentences and numbers. I chose the School of Liberal Arts when I enrolled at the Renmin University of China with the confidence that multiple knowledge in humanities and social science would well prepare me for the future.

On the way to female campus, my only concern was how to make my presentation without being present at the same conference room. Mohammed told me they used videoconferencing system to solve this problem, which virtually shocked me when I saw the male scholars on the screen while they can only hear my voice. I had to wear the electronic veil to begin my presentation. Gradually, a strong voice from heart became louder and louder. I can do something no matter how tiny it was. It was the same voice when I quitted the well-paid internship in Microsoft and began work voluntarily for NGOs. Suddenly, I stopped presentation. “I give up the last two minutes of my presentation.” I said, slowly and firmly, through the videoconferencing, “I really appreciate the opportunity offered by King Saud University. But I hope next time when I come to Riyadh, I myself can virtually present the conference, not my voice.” When I met Mohammed at the front door of female campus, he told me that my absent presentation won the loud applause of scholars from all over the world.

This experience is significant in my academic career. It is a vivid demonstration of new media technologies and their influence – both in the sense of technological features that bring in transformations in production and distribution, as well as in the sense of users who are embedded in certain political, economic and cultural structures. What is more important, it makes me feel responsible to give help to the helpless and give voice to the voiceless through new media, especially when I am fully aware of the powers embedded in media as a communication major student.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Tao of Statistics

End of analysis,
Start of results,
Thin ice.

This is a poem for p values, a term in statistics. It is written by Dana Keller, the writer of the book The tao of statistics: a path to understanding (with no math). It was the first time for me to finish reading a statictics book at one sitting. It is like Laozi's Dao De Jing, which is concise and comprehensive.

I have never expected that there will be a statistics book like a novel or a comic book. Although I have taken at least two courses on it, statistics is supposed to be extremely tough and the learning process is really suffering. Every time I tried my best to remember a concept or an equation, but still did not know how to use it in analysis. Worse yet, I promptly forgot all about them after the course examinations. So, next time when I have to use statistics, it would be a new round of learning and suffering.

I used to lose all my confidence in statistics. I even doubted my own IQ or whether I did not work hard enough. Gradually, I found that it was not the problem of intelligence or diligence, but the problem of Tao, the ways. Maybe it is a suitable way for others, but it is not my way. Why I have to cut my feet to fit the others’ shoes. Why not to find my own shoes? There must be my ways somewhere. All I need is the confidence and searching. The tao of statistics: a path to understanding (with no math) gives me the confidence to going on.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reviews of EE6605 Lesson 2

Last week, Professor Chen briefly introduced graph theories, three types of networks, and some fundamental concepts of the complex studies. This week, he focused on Paul Erdős and Alfréd Rényi's random graph theory.

Assume that there are N isolated nodes. Let's randomly link two of them to generate a random graph network. We use p to represent the probability of randomly linking two nodes. Here, the number of all links can be easily calculated, which is K (number of links) = p*N (N-1)/2. Professor Chen also demonstrated how to calculate L(the average path length) and C(the cluster coefficient) step by step.

What impressed me most was the comparison between various real networks, such as social networks, information networks, protein networks, and so on. Networks which have relatively small L and small C are more likely the random graph networks. Meanwhile, small L and large C are features of small world networks. Those that follow the power-law distribution are scale-free networks.

However, in our daily life, networks composed of isolated nodes are rare. What if the nodes are not isolated and the edges are not randomly linked?