Saturday, December 31, 2016

The New Year and Beyond

So, at fifty years, I look at the world around me and view it through the eyes of Antonio Gramsci. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Gramsci wrestled with the question of why working people would align themselves with the reactionary right (fascists and others) who smashed unions, curtailed basic rights, and attacked working class interests. His conclusion was that the wealthy had achieved an ideological hegemony. Not only did the wealthy control the financial resources in the nation, they also controlled the production of ideas. People were sold on the ideas that foreigners, Jews, socialists, and lazy people were the source of their problems. Sound familiar?


Due to the Great Recession brought about by the conservative policies to redistribute wealth to the already wealthy, we live in a time very similar to the aftermath of the Great Depression. After the Great Depression, the world split into radical left movements for economic justice, including anarchists, communists, and socialists and the reactionary right, promoting the interests of the wealthy, including corporatist elitists and fascists. In Spain, equality and anarchist principles had enjoyed a short victory before the world conspired to support the fascists, crushing the embryonic movement of freedom and autonomy. On the other side was the reactionary right, the fascists - the corporatists who felt government on behalf of corporations is a government that favors people, especially if you can eliminate undesirable people from your borders. Again, sound familiar?


While we do not have the pseudo-scientific fiction of eugenics to drive the murderous intentions of fascists, we do have a resurgence of xenophobia and race hate in the world community. Governments vacillate between the democratic socialist policies of Bolivia and the corporatism of Pinochet’s Chile. In the US, Sanders’ popularity is the flowering of the despair with the current system. Trump is the infection taking hold, fed by astro-turfing the reactionary right tea-party movement. The Tea-Party Frankenstein’s monster Republicans struggle to control preys upon the same dissatisfaction with the future under our current system, but gives it a distinctly racialized and xenophobic twist. But, let’s not confuse all who supported Trump with those who exhibit the most appalling characteristics of the fascist (renamed “alt-right") movement. The support for change that tilted toward Trump is drawn from the same well as those who supported change exhibited by Sanders.


At this point, perhaps some clarification is overdue. When we talk about conservative and liberal, they have very precise political and economic definitions. However, most people do not use these precise definitions outside of political or the academic world. It is also important to note that what conservative and liberal politicians say publicly is very different from their actual policies. Conservatives have been anything but fiscally responsible and liberals have instituted policies that undermine people of color and the poor. When I critique conservative and liberal, I am talking specifically about the party leadership and intellectual roots. Conservatives, as a rule, like liberals, are not really fully aware of, or agree with, the very specific (and nearly always unstated) economic and foreign policy objectives of the parties. I think we need to get beyond this false dichotomy of conservative and liberal in the population. Both conservative and liberal folks need to shuck those ridiculously outdated labels and see their common interests and struggles. If not, the reality of hateful clashes of the past few years will only grow in intensity.


Another important point of clarification, conservatives have controlled the majority of governorships, state legislatures, and congress since about 2010. So, when people argued to drain the swamp, it was the conservatives sitting on the stumps with big, fat fuckin grins on their faces admiring the fact that people completely missed the conservative control of government. People who voted for a “change” were really saying “I love this shit sandwich; is it possible to turn this into a full-on fecal buffet!”


The task at hand, according to Gramsci, is to create a counter-hegemony to help us make sense of the world around us - to allow the folks who seek change under Trump to come together with those who seek change under Sanders. Even my own analysis of fascism makes this difficult, but I feel we need to call things what they are. We need to identify what is really going on, but in doing so, we must be surgically precise. Not all Trump followers are fascists, and not all Clinton supporters have your best interests in mind. If the Democratic party had the insight of political economy and were willing to challenge our current corporate dominated economy, they would have won this election handily. Instead, they spit in the face of working people by rigging the system in favor of a very contentious candidate and ignoring the issues that really concern working folks.


Democrats had reality on their side. Conservatives have orchestrated every deficit in the recent past to fuel defense spending, while Democrats have balanced budgets. Wisconsin and Minnesota are great examples of two very different trajectories. Wisconsin is mired in slow job growth, low wage levels, and a state deficit while Minnesota is one of the best states for business, solid economic recovery, and has a $1.5 billion surplus in its state budget. The recent control of both houses of the state legislature by conservatives threatens Minnesota’s more comfortable economic position. Low tax states like Texas, Kansas, and South Dakota are some the worst places to live if you actually work for a living. Unemployment is higher, wages are lower, and social services are slashed to favor the accumulation of wealth by the very wealthiest in our society.


What did Democrats do with this information? Nothing! They did not want to offend the folks that butter their bread, so they keep their mouth shut, said the same shit the Republicans did, and really did not pose an alternative. The failure to keep someone as offensive as Trump out of the White House falls squarely on the strategists in the Democratic party. They did not create or utilize an existing counter-hegemony to give people a reason to believe that they would be any different than the alternative.


The next fifty years are going to be shaped by this movement of history - the struggle of working people against the wealthy. As we face a world where social policy is designed to wrest decision making out of democratic processes and locate it among few elite interests, we will see budgets and legislation that will make addressing future concerns near impossible. The goal of conservatives is to ratchet down the options for budgets, increasingly privatize social goods like retirement, and promote election laws favoring the wealthy. Once budgets are slashed, prisons and schools are privatized, your health care and retirement is a function of the stock market, it will be painfully difficult to fix the problems these trends will create.


The gross deficits are not a failure of conservative policy (or supposed tax-and-spend liberals), but a concerted success by conservatives to fuck us. By creating a deficit, conservatives posit the only alternative, cutting programs. The whole point was to cut the programs that meet the needs of the majority of the population, but by insanely inflating the deficit, conservatives find little opposition to budget cuts. As his first priority, Walker intentionally unbalanced the Wisconsin budget so he could fuck the working people of Wisconsin. The current budget deficit is a conscious policy of Walker’s pro-wealthy agenda to continue to call for budget austerity and further “fuck you” budget cuts to those that truly need economic relief. When it comes time to address the gaping hole in the budget and the crumbling infrastructure, returning to previous tax levels is nearly impossible. Any time tax levels are restored prior levels, the conservatives can blame the liberals for “tax increases.”


Right now, the buck is being passed from the federal to the state and down to the municipal level. Budget cuts at the federal level show up as increased fees such as licences and tuition, bond measures, and tax increases locally. Fucked up tax policy favoring the wealthy promotes tax increases elsewhere. After creating the conditions that require shifting tax burdens, conservatives conveniently hold up liberals as the promoters of high taxes. It is great fukin racket. Destroy the budget, then piss on your neighbor and say he dribbled on himself.


Friday, November 11, 2016

My Election Manifesto

I have waited a few days to weigh in n the current election fallout, but I have seen some disturbing trends that I want to address.

For those who supported a Trump victory, I congratulate you on your successful mobilization. Any social movement needs a motivated base to energize each other. If I were to make predictions, roughly I would expect that your condition will not improve during a Trump presidency, but there will be a number of groups whose quality of life will decline over the next few years. Some folks have already experienced this on my campus and in the nation as a whole.

If Trump lives up to his platform, I expect the nation to go as Wisconsin has gone under Walker. Economic growth will be sluggish as it relates to working people. They will continue to be dissatisfied with their economic lot and their future. The deficit will ballon as a direct result of those policies, as it has in Wisconsin. People will be no less bitter or disgusted with the direction of the country, and it will likely worsen over the next decade (it may take more than four years to further cripple this economy - Bush's economic collapse unfolded at the very end of his term).

However, what has pained me the most is the rhetoric after the election. The very same people who so desperately wanted to distance themselves from Clinton by arguing they voted against Trump are not affording their opposition the same courtesy. The rhetoric that I see and hear in the media and in conversation is about how racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic Trump supporters are. These are the same folks who cry foul when people lump an entire religion with acts of violence. This duplicity is the hallmark of the "liberal." Let me note that "liberals" are an entirely different species than progressives or radicals, but I do not have time to go into that here.

At the same time liberals decry acts of discrimination before and after the election, these very same people discriminate against people of color in their workplaces. This discrimination is hidden and deprives people of color the same opportunities whites receive simply because of skin color, religion, or nation of origin. The visible hate speech and hate crimes that have been perpetrated are psychologically harmful, but they are out in the open, and all people of good conscience can come together to console each other. The discrimination that takes place in search committees, hiring decisions, and behind closed doors is sheltered away from public view and proceeds relatively unchallenged in our society.

The very same people who decry the discriminatory actions during and after this election are the very same folks who perpetrate this closed-door discrimination. This is the duplicity that I have been fighting since 2013 in my own backyard. There is a statistic in a film I show, "Race the Power of an Illusion," that states, when you hold wealth and income the same, you cannot tell whites and people of color apart on a number of indicators like success in education and work. If wealth and income are equal, all ethnicities are equal. We also know that people with ethnic sounding names are 50% less likely to get a callback on a resume. They are discriminated against in hiring. They are discriminated against in the classroom. But, they also are equal to whites when wealth and income are the same. This means that people of color have to work harder to maintain that equality. They have to work harder just to keep pace with whites. This is the result of discriminatory acts perpetrated by liberals as well as conservatives.

So, I want to call out those liberals who are so quick to dismiss the people who voted against Clinton. Yes, Trump is a horrible human being with deplorable attitudes, but Clinton is a classist, ethnocentric, civilizational mission spouting, warmongering oligarch. Her foregin policy is no less racist that Trump's Victorian-era small-mindedness, but Clinton shares Trump's international perspective that is just a retooled version of the "white man's burden." Our interventionist foreign policy and the racist implications for those killed, maimed, and starved by it, are easily forgotten when people voted against Trump.

No, you cannot console yourself by calling people who voted for Trump racists, etc. You fucking duplicitous bastards are calling the kettle black. This is precisely why liberals find it so difficult to comprehend why the working class has turned against them. You lump them in a category of "deplorables" and expect them to see the error of their ways by joining in your moral superiority. That classist bullshit just does not play with working people.

I know liberals are stunned by the outcome of the election. I know liberals cannot comprehend how so many people could vote for a person with so few qualifications and such a horrible worldview. What you have to understand is that liberals decided to cajole their primary system to produce a candidate who has a long history of being detested, and granted, a great deal of that hatred (from conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike) is due simply to the fact that Clinton is a very strong woman in a nearly exclusively male arena. But, she is also a pretty shitty person and candidate. Liberals ignored that fact, and paid the price. Don't blame the opposition for your lack of foresight. The fact that the race was even close given the quality of the opposition should tell you something about your own mobilization strategy and the quality of your candidate.

We live in a time where we should learn from the past. Reactionary movements are bred out of economic despair and struggle. The liberals had a perfect opportunity to reach out to working people and demonstrate that they could address their concerns. Bernie's popularity mobilized a certain sector of the population, but liberals thought it was enough to focus on his base, but they ignored a huge segment of the population who could have benefitted from grassroots mobilization. Instead, the duplicitous hubris of the liberal party marginalized those folks, intentionally making them feel inadequate and morally bankrupt.

You fucking assholes got what you deserved, and now we, including those who voted for Trump, will have to suffer the consequences. Now, the whole nation gets to feel the despair, fruitlessness, and divisive atmosphere of Wisconsin. Thank you, you rotten liberal fucks.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Patriotism in the US

Patriotism is a weird thing in the US. People go to the mat defending an old drinking song, and two words inserted in the national anthem during the height of 1950's paranoia. There is so little that is uniquely US culture that people lose their minds defending stuff that is not really "traditional."  Christmas is a great example of something that was not traditional, especially at the time of the "founding fathers."

The US is a nation with a history always under the influence of capitalist culture, which is a homogenizing culture-less process. Trump's popularity is rooted in US culture-less capitalist culture - people, who feel at-risk, fear losing something that they never had, but the elite tell you things were better when this non-existent past existed. I understand why it happens, but that still doesn't take away from the fact that US politics are insane. 

I may be wrong, but I think there are few nations that have such widespread displays of their flag, and peppered throughout the year. People have to fly the damn thing because they are afraid of losing what they never had. It is a symbol of US paranoia more than it is a symbol of pride and solidarity.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Structural Adjustment of Wisconsin Revisited

Given the direction of the presidential election, it may be worthwhile to revisit the economic tragedy that is Wisconsin. The neoliberal Walker gutting of the state has led to a widening gulf between Wisconsin and Minnesota, which took the opposite direction in the economic crisis. There are no shortage of articles pointing out the obvious comparisons.

http://publicradio1.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/newscut/files/2015/01/fredgraph.coincident.jpg

Here is one blog that outlines the comparison. http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2015/01/minnesota-economy-beats-wisconsin-7-charts-1-table/

Minnesota is wrestling with a budget surplus, while Wisconsin is mired in a deficit. Minnesota's economy has outpaced Wisconsin in nearly all respects. Knowledge of the effects of structural adjustment allowed me to see the writing on the wall. http://klogholesbloghole.blogspot.com/2011/03/stuctural-adjustment-of-wisconsin.html

Even the budget surplus in Minnesota is low-hanging fruit for those that want to push neoliberal cuts. Right now, legislators are pushing for tax cuts in Minnesota, a mechanism to put a stranglehold on the budget in the future. The whole purpose of tax cuts is to ensure, like a boa constrictor, the budget can only get smaller, making the everyday operation of the government ever more difficult. It is a deliberate strategy to gut social spending, but it also undermines the economy as a whole.

These policies occur not just at the local level, but at the national level as well. Given the slate of candidates in the presidential election, and the bizarre party politics playing out, it is time to start paying attention. Clearly, we need a change of direction at the national level as well as avoid the failed policies in Wisconsin.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Sociological Imagination

I'm wondering if you think those authors who do mention such things without tying them to the social structure that creates them know what they are doing?  Do they intentionally leave that out since the focus is on the behavior? I had a conversation earlier today about how social researchers don't care about motives behind why someone did something but instead their justification was that you can't "enter someone's head" I argued that motive is essential to know as well if we really are looking for progress. I guess what I'm asking is do you think those folks purposely avoid that being that they don't care what structure created it, but only the behavior?

I do not think that many sociologists are able to think at that level of abstraction.  They claim that they are including the social structure.  They assume that peer influences, socialization by others, and social constructions are all social level influences.  They are not.  They are intermediaries between the social structure and the individual.  But, they are not able to see the broader social forces that drive these intermediate influences.

For example, if we look at gendered behaviors such as in an article on body image and body mass index (BMI), we can see the problem.  The article argues that Black women tend to have a higher tolerance for higher BMI and are not as concerned with body image as White women.  Aside from the fact that it normalizes unhealthy, thin body image in White women, the article points to a "cultural legacy" as one of the reasons for the difference.  As Mills complains, this notion of "cultural legacy" is poorly developed and not integrated into the research itself.  It is an ad hoc explanation, hastily pasted to a poorly conceived abstract empiricist project.  But, to the researchers, it is the social factor that helps explain the difference in self perception.  A cultural legacy that included socialization and peer influences, like Black males' standards in body size, only looks at the individual level of analysis (also making it a perfect example of color-blind cultural racism).  But, as the article demonstrates, cultural racism is not really a concern for sociologists.  Researchers, reviewers and editors are perfectly willing and eager to print research with culturally racist findings.  They cannot see it as such because their level of analysis is so horrifically limited that they could not possibly publish any research on issues of gender or race because the level of analysis dictates a blame the victim conclusion.

The beliefs and attitudes of a group of people originate in the social constructions within that group of people.  Since the level of analysis is the interviewees own attitudes and understandings, the “problem” can only be understood as part of the interviewees’ own construction.  The “problem” is firmly rooted in the interviewee, and not the social structure acting on the subjects of the study.  The worst of this type of research turns labeling theory into an "identity" that needs to be reconstructed.  It is the felons that need to re-envision themselves, not the justice system that needs to change.  There is no way not to blame the victim with this kind of perspective, but this is where abstracted empiricism comes in.  Ad hoc theories and rationalizations are added at the end of the study to rationalize away their racist, sexist, classist conclusions.  They are not connected to the broader study and are simply philosophical statements unconnected to the study or rooted in empirical evidence.

These types of researchers fool themselves into thinking that because the behavior is held and transmitted through groups, it is a social structural influence.  It is not.  It is only the effect of a broader social structural influence.  Why do Black women and men possess this different cultural legacy?  Why specifically would larger body mass index be associated with Black women.  The authors’ excuse is "Perhaps the conception of a strong African American woman suggests a physically large body."  Ok, aside from being pure speculation, what social structural factors would lead Black women to this conception rather than others?  What historical factors can we find that would help us understand this issue?  Contemporary sociologists, for the large part, are not interested in these broader explanatory forces.  These factors are too removed from the individual's own experience to be conveniently documented through one-on-one interviews.  The problem with grounded method and the reliance on in-depth interviews is that the interviewees, Mills argues, many times do not know the social forces that are acting upon them.  Thus, if your head is always in an individual level of analysis, you cannot see the forest for the trees.

Now, that is not to argue that in-depth interviews and grounded method are inherently wrong, but they have become a problem much like grand theory and abstracted empiricism.  When a researcher does not properly situate their study in the broader social structure, it is loosed from its moorings and tells us little about the social world.  Patricia Hill Collins is a great example of how to tie the individual lived experience to the broader social structure.  Many others who use "intersectionalities" or the matrix of domination have so rinsed the concepts of their historical and structural footings that they become meaningless anecdotes.

Sociology, at its best, allows us to understand the trajectories in our society.  Like chemists who cannot know the behavior of individual atoms, sociologists are not necessarily concerned with the individual motivations or behaviors of individual people.  When speaking of motivations, we have to acknowledge that many times the individuals do not know what drives them.  Do working-class Tea Partiers knowingly accept their manipulation at the hands of the wealthy?  How do we understand gay Republicans?

I think your question about the motivation that someone holds is part of the duality of the sociological understanding.  There are broader social forces that give rise to certain behaviors and ideas.  These social forces may be interpreted or felt differently by different groups of people.  So, the economic insecurity and decline in living standards for the middle classes in the US has caused at least two very different reactions to the same social structural forces.  On the one hand, we have a number of folks who have identified capitalism, greed, corporations, etc. as the source of the problem.  Some are driven by an understanding of capitalism, while others have a sort of visceral antagonism to the unfairness of the global economy.  On the other hand, we have groups of people who have identified scapegoats for the declining standard of living.  These folks identify dead-beat dads, immigrants, pork-barrel spending, entitlements, terrorists, the UN, government, etc.  A sociological understanding of the situation allows us to see that the current social and economic conditions are giving rise to these views.  We may even be able to identify general social factors that would allow us to distinguish why certain people fall into one group rather than the other.

Your question gets at the second part of the issue.  Now that we know where these ideas came from, how do we understand the interpretations of those who hold these ideas so that we may move toward a constructive solution?  This, is, I think, the most significant failure of the left whether it be environmentalists or pro-worker activists, etc.  Some folks may understand the social structure, but they cannot understand why people would see the world differently than themselves.  Why are so many working-class individuals so pro-corporation and rich guy?  They do not necessarily verbalize it that way, but the policies they support end up being exactly that.  Well, that is the question of motivation.  We can still understand this motivation in the broader context, but in order to have a dialogue with folks who think differently than you do, you have to understand where they come from and try to find the common ground.

The current gun control confrontation is a perfect example.  We can understand why it is that guns have become so firmly entrenched in the US.  At the moment, it is largely driven by gun manufacturers and sellers.  They are able to construct a mythology of threat to their very freedoms not simply because people fear losing the joy of shooting their weapon, but because of the very fact that the economy is tenuous and people feel economically threatened.  There is already a mythology of "big government" as a significant part of the problem for declining opportunity.  Thus, the weakened economy and corporate attacks on workers are all explained as the result of government's intervention into daily life.  Because the government is the problem, of course, they are going to want to take away your guns so you have no say.  The gun lobby has successfully turned their own rational self interest into a revolutionary cause against a tyrannical government.  The irrationality of the people who speak out (not necessarily even the heart of the gun lobby itself, like the actual manufacturers and sellers) is characteristic of this fear of government takeover and penetration into your very life.  Now, contradictions abound including all the legislation proposing the mingling of church and state, abortion, gay rights, etc. to limit individual rights.  So, you cannot talk to folks about a general notion of getting government out of your business, but focus more on their fears and explanation for their problems.  We can talk to them all we want about why there is economic insecurity and the role of government, but until the economy improves and government is wrested away from lobbyists and corporate interests, we will find it very difficult to combat the onslaught of propaganda and misinformation by corporate interests.

We like to think that people are logical.  In large part they are, but the fact that the flow of information is controlled by those who are serving their own interests means that people do not have access to accurate information on which they can make a logical decision.  People appear irrational only because the information they receive is so distorted.  I think this is the value of the sociological imagination.  In order to understand individual motivation, you have to understand the social structure of which people are a part.  We can understand their motivations much better if we understand the structure that gives rise to those motivations.  Unless we change the structure, it will be very difficult to change the motivations.  People who are against gun control will continue to be against gun control until they feel that their guns are merely recreational and not also revolutionary.  They may still want their guns, but I imagine, the debate will not be as politically charged so that some progress can be made.

The proper level of analysis has been a long-standing debate in sociology.  Most sociologists have marginalized the macro approach, but there is some good stuff still around.  It is much easier to interview 20 people and write down what they say than to have to create a cogent, historically and sociologically informed argument.  Since the emphasis is on publication, the quality of much of sociology is determined by the limits imposed by the journal article format.  Situating your argument consumes too many pages to fit within the confines of a typical journal article.  This is another issue that can be understood in the broader context!

Can Qualitative Methods Produce the Sociological Imagination? The Dialectic of Macro and Micro Sociology

The biggest question I have for you though is what is a good way to use qualitative methods?  We know that we can get much more detail and explanation that we can't necessarily get through surveys and questionnaires.  We also know that there are problems with generalizability in qualitative methods such as interviewing.  Does qualitative methods inherently mean it is not macro sociology?  How can we, for example, use a grounded approach, get in-depth data (and not numbers or yes or no answers) and focus on a particular group without getting away from the macro?

There are a number of people that do historical comparative work that includes qualitative analysis.  A friend of mine has studied slave journals as well as census reports to better understand slavery in the mountain South (Wilma Dunaway - Slavery in the American Mountain South).  Her work tied the qualitative journal data to the quantitative (and qualitative) census data and then situated it in the broader world-system perspective.  Some people are doing really good qualitative work that lives up to the sociological imagination.  I have another friend who did participant observation on community supported agriculture farms and tied it to the broader political economy.  The problem of journal articles that I mentioned have made it difficult for her research to find a home.  The more macro-oriented journals do not know what to do with her interviews, and the more micro-oriented journals do not know how to deal with the theoretical and historical framework that explains the actions of the individuals in her study.  Thus, it is difficult, but not impossible, to do good research based on the demands of the journal articles.  The best sociology combines a micro-understanding alongside the macro context.  Patricia Hill Collins is another good example.  People have twisted her work into something hollow and useless, but her "Black Feminist Thought" is still a great example of how to tie voices from below to the broader context in which they occur.

The best sociology situates the in-depth interviews in a broader context.  It fills in the details a bit more.  You can think about it in terms of resolution.  We can take a picture of the social world, but the macro picture tends to be from a distant vantage point, leaving a low resolution, so when you zoom in, everything is blurry or pixelated.  Micro level analysis allows us to increase the resolution in certain areas of that photo.  We can more clearly understand the relationships that are occurring in a certain portion of that photo.  If we only use a macro perspective, we only really have a general understanding of what is going on.  This may be very useful.  For example, the economic meltdown we recently experienced is pretty easily predictable based on a Marxist analysis of the general trends in the economy.  We may not know the exact date or firm that will trigger the event, but we can see it coming.  Micro level analysis may show us more detail of what is happening in certain areas of the photo, but it cannot tell us if these events are characteristic of the broader photo or give us a sense of the broader landscape.  Micro level analysis may be helpful to psychologists to help individuals deal with the issues they face, but it does not help sociologists understand broader level phenomena without the help of a macro understanding to help us make sense of what we are seeing.  So, we can discern a general understanding of even the most blurry of photos if we look at it from a distance.  However, if you take a small tube to zoom in on a portion of that same photo, it may be completely non-nonsensical.  That is because it is abstracted away from the larger picture.  The micro only makes sense in the context of the macro.  The micro may help us understand things more clearly, but it cannot be intellectually useful outside of the context of our broader understanding of society.

Now, herein lies the rub, as they say.  This perspective is not the dominant perspective in sociology.  Because of journal articles and careerist oriented sociologists, the field is dominated by easily accomplished micro-studies of interesting phenomenon that titillate the senses and sociologists' liberal sensibilities.  I am not sure about the field of political science.  They tend to do a lot of opinion polling, but I also think there are a lot of historical-comparative people out there - people who look at historical documents (or data sets) to compare different states or regions of the world to discern patterns.

I have to say, I have not found an easy way to get my stuff published because of my orientation.  It takes persistence, which takes time, which I do not have.  I may be more successful with my publications if I had more time to focus on them.  Because others tailor their research toward the journal format and the expectations of the reviewers, they are able to publish more easily.  I read articles all the time that have erroneous assumptions or inaccurate theorizations, but they get published because they fit the methodological approach the reviewers expect (micro or macro).  It does not matter that the definition they use to orient their study is fundamentally flawed as long as their methodology is sound.  I read a recent article where someone implied that entropy was a bad thing.  Entropy occurs all the time and is a natural environmental process.  Despite the fact that her notion of entropy contradicted the science of entropy, the article was still published.  It is a very bizarre academic world right now.

The Role of Micro Oriented Sociology

One last question about this:  It is certain that micro sociology inevitably needs to be understood through the broader context for usefulness, so does the macro level of analysis need the micro at all???

If the object of study is to meet the requirements of the sociological imagination, then yes.  You can certainly do micro-level analysis, but for it to fulfill the expectations of Mills' sociological imagination, you must situate it in the broader social context.  There is a plethora of research out there that is called sociology that does not live up to the sociological imagination.  Similarly, the macro must be able to speak to issues that affect the individual biographies of people in society.  When macro theory does not relate to the lived experiences of people, it is most likely grand theory.  Theory needs to be applied to specific historical circumstances and the experiences of real human beings.  If not, it is merely philosophy.  So, the issue lies in the definition.  I feel that the sociology that Mills outlined and Marx practiced is what sociology is.  However, other sociologists derive their genealogy from Comte, Blumer, Weber, Merton, etc. and not from Marx through Mills.  Therefore, their sociology does not necessarily fulfill the requirements of the sociological imagination, but is viewed in their eyes as every bit sociological.

Every research project and scientific endeavor begins with assumptions and a set of definitions, either literal or implied.  I tend to root my set of assumptions and definitions in the Marxist perspective.  Others eschew Marxism and its purported polemical perspective.  If you argue what I have outlined here, you may get some very puzzled looks because they do not see sociology in this way.  They may see that a detached micro or macro perspective is perfectly fine.  They may assume that they are connecting the macro to the micro.

Also, one last note.  As Collins discusses, it is not to say that micro level data is not useful.  Because many voices from below have been silenced, sometimes the only place we can get perspectives outside of the dominant view is through journals, poetry, interviews, etc.  It is the researcher's job to weave these contributions into a larger tapestry.