Dr. Jason Beckfield, originally from Joplin, Missouri, and a 1998 Truman graduate with a major in Sociology/Anthropology, has been promoted to Professor of Sociology at Harvard University.
Dr. Beckfield, a native of Joplin, Missouri, got his introduction to sociology at Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman). He took a memorable survey course taught by Jack Mitchell. “He was extremely intimidating,” Beckfield said. “He was a big man–gruff, severe, and a compelling lecturer.” Intensive seminars in classic and comtemporary social theory gave Beckfield an exceptional grounding for the Ph.D. program at Indiana University.
Beckfield spent one of his seven doctoral years helping his adviser, Professor Art Alderson, complete an intensive social network analysis of selected cities around the world. “It was a very important moment in graduate school,” said Beckfield. “It completely changed the way I thought about globalization.”
Social network analysis is the complex, data-driven study of how nodes (individuals) and ties (relationships) relate to one another. Conceptually, this key analytical tool dates to the 1930s, but it only took off in the ’90s, when computing power could finally cope with massive data sets. Beckfield is a fan of the technique’s fluid intersections with physics, neuroscience, statistics, and other disciplines.
The complex equations and fulsome quantitative data of social network analysis underlie his chief reserach: regionalization initiatives like the European Union (EU). Entities like the EU are increasingly common–new economic, political, and social hybrids of national and global ties. Beckfield wonders if the EU create patterns of inequality? It’s all so new, Beckfield calls regional unions like the EU “supranational entities” that are “completely fascinating socity-building experiments.”
The idea of globalization helps us understand grand patterns, said Beckfield. But it is more accurate to think of the world as a place of multiplying supranational regions: densely woven networks of social, economic, and political ties that exceed national boundaries. The world is not the globalized “flat world” popularized by writer Thomas Friedman, said Beckfield. “The metaphor I like better–it’s not my own–is that the world is ‘spiky,’ increasingly fragmented and increasingly unequal.”
from an article by Corydon Ireland in the Harvard Gazette