Sociologist Karen Weiss decided that some peer-reviewed research on the so-called rape culture in college was reason enough to tackle a book. Party School: Crime, Campus, and Community is the depressing product. Not, notes Book Review No. 10, depressing because of the story it tells; rather, depressing for its failure to propose any meaningful hypotheses, even in a summary that stakes out turf for future research. Apparently in the world of Victim Studies, if you "contextualize the party lifestyle" and string together a bunch of sad stories, with no rigorous hypothesis testing, you have a book. "Contextualizing" means "Big state universities with visible sports programs attract students that like to consume intoxicants or narcotics to excess." Why? Who knows? Is there administrative motivation (bring in out-of-state-students who pay full freight by offering sports-bragging-rights and a cheaper degree than the Ivies?) Is the transformation of general education from where the weeder courses once were to College Lite contributing? Professor Weiss's case studies dial their wilding back going into junior or senior year, which she interprets as buckling down in their majors (or perhaps just growing up?) Might a tightening of standards in general education reduce the temptations to get wasted? Would that be salutary? Again, crickets.
And what about the methods of sociology itself? We encounter the concept of "situational norms", a fancy way of saying "getting away with bad behavior when Mom isn't watching." The subtitle of the book suggests the situational norms of Greek Row or the student ghetto are less-than-desirable. Does that lesson generalize to other sub-cultures behaving badly? (That's a topic for future research. I dare any sociologist to take it up.) Or consider the attitude of the party types to responsible students who would like to get some work done, or to non-student-neighbors: they know this is a party school, they can go someplace else. Professor Weiss compares the response of those residents with the response of residents in rough neighborhoods where the gang-bangers take over. Again, I dare any sociologist to take up the challenge: is the cult of transgressivity where racially changing neighborhoods is concerned giving yobs a free pass that perhaps they shouldn't get as college partiers? But there's none of that in Party School: the author suggests administrative and commercial complicity in beer-'n-circus, yet offers a thin list of proposals for reform that neglects tighter admission standards or a more rigorous curriculum or lessons that might have been drawn from crime control in cities.
If you're expecting Sprecher Black Bavarian, you get Miller Lite.
(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)