Monday, September 9, 2013

The final blog post... for now...

So our summer session comes to a close this week. Six weeks, 19 lectures, some of them in a very hot environment - we made it through our fast and very surface level survey of what sociologists study and how they go about it. We've used the sociological imagination to briefly examine how we construct our social realities, the construction of categories that are then the basis on which power, privilege, and prestige are systematically distributed, the ways that the intersections of race, class, and gender at which we each exist structure how we experience health and illness, education, and family, and how the ways that we have constructed those institutions impact our abilities to experience the good things in life, and finally, how we simultaneously reproduce and resist the social inequalities that divide and discriminate.

Most of you will not go on to become sociology majors - and that's okay because I think that it is useful for individuals in all fields to have sociological imaginations, to be able to look at the everyday world through a sociological lens. [I do hope I piqued some interest and that at least a few of you will choose to take some sociology classes that explore these ideas in more depth.] A well-honed sociological imagination that connects history and biography, the personal and the social, will enable us to find solutions to the inequities we face in our daily lives.

So, for your last blog post, I'd like you to return to the idea of the sociological imagination. How did using a sociological perspective provide a different way of looking at a problem or an institution or a social phenomena? Be specific. Hint: You might return to the social phenomena that you discussed in your first post as something that you'd like to "make strange." Has your analysis changed? How? If you wish to pick a problem, institution, or social phenomena that you didn't discuss in your first post, that's fine, but be specific and concrete with your examples and analysis.

And then finally, reflect on what using a sociological imagination "looks" like for you. When we began the course, you defined it - but what is it to use a sociological imagination in practice? Is there something you will take from this class for your future classes?

It was truly a pleasure to serve as your instructor this Session. I wish you lots of luck in your future endeavors and I hope that, no matter what life path you follow, you continue to develop your sociological imaginations and become engaged, critical, and reflexive citizens.

Week Five Blog Prompts

This week we continued our survey of topics that sociologists study by examining the sociology of health and the sociology of family.

Option 1:
In this article, the author tells a story about the life and death of a poor white woman. Read and analyze this article using the sociological concepts we discussed in class. Specifically, identify and use the elements of social determinants theory, psycho- social, materialist, and the fundamental causes theories, to explain Crystal Wilson's life and death? Finally, be sure to consider the author's analysis - what might you add or argue with (if this is difficult, identify some further questions we should ask).

Option 2:
In this audio and written article, the author queries the phenomena of stay-at-home dads with breadwinner moms. Read and listen and then discuss. First, why is this a "hot topic?" What gender roles and ideas about the family are being challenged by families such as those profiled (include some specific evidence from the article/audio)? In your answer, be sure to discuss the myth of the traditional family and the division of labor. Given what you've learned in class, what questions might you ask these families if you had the opportunity?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Week 4 Blog Prompts

This week we discussed gender and race as socially constructed categories that serve as the basis for differential distribution of power, prestige, and privilege. Our systems of gender and racial stratification shape individuals' life chances and lived experiences in a variety of ways.

This week:

Option 1: We discussed gender as "achieved," that is, we "do" gender and we are held "accountable" for how well we achieve (or don't) gender. Use these concepts to discuss a time when you failed to achieve your gender, and how you were held accountable. Did you purposefully fail to "achieve?" Why? You may find it useful to discuss this in terms of hegemonic masculinity, ideal femininity, and other course concepts.

Option 2: We also discussed racialization: how boundaries are drawn around a group, how people are mapped into those groups, the meanings assigned to the category, and the everyday consequences of being marked as part of that racial category. Use these concepts to discuss a time when you experienced being racialized (for example, the first time you became aware of your racial category) and connect that to our discussion of structural racism. It may be relevant to you to discuss the invisibility of whiteness as per Peggy McIntosh.

Finally it is important to note that we do not experience one identity separately from the rest; that is, we are all raced and all gendered. Our lived experiences are situated at "the intersections" of race and gender (and class, etc.). Where we may have privilege and access to resources (the good stuff of life) based on our belonging to one category, we may simultaneously be at a disadvantage based on belonging to another category. For example, as a White woman, my white skin affords me access to privilege (not being assumed to be a criminal and being assumed to "belong" in the U.S) at the same time that I may make less money than my male counterpart. Thus, if it makes sense to you to discuss your experiences at the intersection of race and gender (e.g. as a Latina woman or a Asian man), rather than discussing them separately, please feel free to do so.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Week 3 Blog Prompts

This week we have covered the Introduction to Deviance and Social Control and the Sociology of Stratification and Poverty. You may choose one of the THREE following prompts for your blog this week.

Option 1

This week we discussed the social construction of deviance, which we conceptualized as formal deviance (violation of laws) and informal deviance (minor transgressions of social norms). We also learned about the construction of social control, or the mechanisms that create normative compliance. Parallel to how we think about deviance, we can categorize social control mechanisms as formal and informal.  For example, if you are at the amusement park you are the subject of formal control mechanisms in that you are expected to abide by park rules that are clearly enforced by the presence of security guards and sometimes police. You are also subject to informal social control; for example, the moms with children who are ahead of you in line might turn the hairy eyeball on you should you and your friends be cursing too loudly! At the same time, you're acting as an agent of social control when you  complain when someone cuts in the line in ways that violate your sense what is normative. As you mentioned in class, there is some amount of "cutting", or perhaps "a way of cutting" that is considered allowable; but you have a sense of this boundary and will notice and call out someone who is doing it incorrectly. Thus, you are both an object and an agent of social control.

Prompt 1: Choose a setting with which you are familiar and consider some ways that you are both an object of social control and an agent of social control. Be specific and clearly define your terms. Then, define the functionalist approach to deviance and social control and discuss how it might explain your behavior.

Option 2

We also discussed deviance and social control in terms of labeling theories and Dr. Victor Rios' theory of the "youth control complex," where the institutions concerned with policing (the police, probation, etc.) and educational institutions combine to control the lives of young Black and Latino men in the inner-city and, by so doing, mark these young men with negative labels that close off opportunities to succeed in school and life, effectively tracking them from school to the criminal justice system. In this article, John Whitehead provides links to many stories that illustrate the ways that zero tolerance policies are being enforced in schools across the country and suggests that the consequences of these policies are causing more problems than they are solving.

Prompt 2: Read the article and discuss using the sociological theories of deviance and social control that we learned in class. Do these examples provide evidence for Dr. Rios' theory?

Option 3

Finally, we also spent time in class discussing stratification and the sociology of poverty. Class is a "fuzzy" concept that is difficult to define and equally difficult to operationalize. It means different things to different people; to say someone is of _____ class, suggests something about that person's status, their culture (attitudes, beliefs, social practices), and their economic means. We are often thinking of other's class in relationship to our own position in society's strata: are we hoping to move up (upward mobility) or hoping that we don't move down to their position? If someone is poor, what assumptions do we hold about that person?

Prompt 3: When and how did you first become aware of your class background? What role does class play in your life? Use a sociological lens and in particular, our discussion of the mechanisms of class reproduction (human, economic, social, and cultural capital), to discuss the ways that your class background has affected your life chances.

I will end with this food for thought. We discussed the four ideal types of systems of stratification: estate, caste, class, and the elite-mass dichotomy. We contrasted Pareto's argument that the elite-mass dichotomy system is positive because it provides the opportunity for the individuals who are the most talented and achievement oriented to become leaders (meritocratic ideology) with C. Wright Mills' counter-argument that power and prestige are what determine position within the society. For Mills' this is dangerous because the "power elite" are those who are in the top positions of the three main societal institutions: economic institutions, politics, and the military. Thus, decision-making power over the masses is consolidated in the hands of those individuals who have the money and prestige to achieve those positions. Whose interests are they looking out for?

Here's an article written by Davey D about the overlap between the private prison industry and mass-media ownership (thank you Maryam). Does this provide us with empirical support for Mills' argument? How might we think about the media's relationship to the power elite? Does this surprise you?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Blog Prompts for Week Two

Option 1
This week we are discussing the sociology of culture and media. For your blog post, choose a cultural "object" and analyze it sociologically. Use our discussion of weddings as a model. Your "object" could be anything really, a song, an item, a social practice, etc. In your post, be sure to define material and non-material culture. Then, discuss the components of material and non-material culture that are relevant to the object you've chosen; that is, you should link the material and the symbolic. Be specific and thorough; you might find that pictures and/or other media might help you illustrate your discussion.

Option 2
Also on our agenda this week is a discussion of socialization and the social construction of reality. Choose a socializing agent (you should define what we mean by agents of socialization) and discuss how your "self" has been shaped and influenced by this agent. How might you be different in the absence or alteration of the socializing agent you've chosen? In your post, be sure to define and use some of the language we've learned to describe social interaction such as roles, statuses (achieved, ascribed, and master). You might also consider applying Mead's concepts of the development of the self or Goffman's dramaturgical theory (note that this is not necessary but their theoretical concepts might be helpful for your analysis). Hint: I am asking you to link the processes of developing your self with the idea that we construct our social reality.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hello Sociology 1 Students! Guest Post by Dr. Michael Bourgeois

Thank you so much for your hospitality in class.  I enjoyed speaking with you all about research methods and I hope you found the discussion useful and interesting.  I especially appreciate your patience with my technical difficulties!

As you go forward in your studies, especially in sociology, you now have a fundamental understanding that methods are always (well, most often) attached to theory - either testing it from the deductive approach or building it from the inductive approach.   You also now have a keen skeptical eye for operationalization - how a particular concept is converted into a concrete and measurable variable.  This will serve you well both as consumers of research in your remaining classes-  and as producers of your own investigations!  You now have a good basis for both critique and collaboration!

As promised, I'm providing a copy of the PowerPoint I used in class.  I'm including the short film clips as well so if they don't open inside of the powerpoint, just open them separately. [NOTE from Anna: I was unable to combine the clips with the powerpoint - they are embedded below this message.]

Best wishes for your summer!

Michael Bourgeois
P.S.  I'll be teaching a few classes in Winter/Spring (Social Movements, Gay and Lesbian Communities, and a couple of others).  Watch for my name in the schedule!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Blog Prompt: Defining and Using the Sociological Imagination

This week in class we've begun our study of sociology by defining the "sociological imagination," a term coined by sociologist C. Wright Mills in 1967 to describe the sociological perspective that connects micro-level individual experiences and macro-level social institutions. In your first blog do the following:

  1. Introduce yourself. Tell us something about you (that you don't mind being on the very public forum of the Internet) that will help us get to know you.
  2. Explain the sociological imagination in your own words. Try to write as if you are explaining to someone who has never read or heard anything about it. Feel free to use examples from your personal life or the Internet. Make sure to discuss the importance of considering history and biography.
  3. What is one aspect of social life that is very familiar to you that you would like to "make strange" over the next six weeks? That is, choose an aspect of social life and consider how social context (time and place) affects your experience of that aspect. 
Remember, be creative! The point is to work with concepts; define them in your own words and then apply them, use them to explain your experiences of the social world.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Welcome - Students Read This First!

Welcome to the Sociology Considerations Blog. This blog is meant to add to our in-class discussions and readings. Our face-to-face time is limited and often focused on information "delivery." So this space will provide another outlet for us to interact with the material and each other. As sociologists, we examine what we take-for-granted in everyday life in order to develop a “sociological imagination” that helps us see the connections between micro-level individual experiences and macro-level social institutions. This blog provides a space to take sociological concepts from the course and apply them to examples from our own lives. Here each of us are teachers and students as we use sociology to explain our experiences of the social worlds that we inhabit; here we can engage in the production of sociological knowledge.

You will receive more explicit instructions for setting up your blogs, what you should be blogging about, and how you will be graded in class (hintcheck GauchoSpace). But in short, your TA and I will post prompts for you to reflect on and respond to in your own blogs - which are linked here. In your blogs, take the course concepts and apply them, using them to explain and evaluate what you see and experience in your lives. Make "the familiar strange" and "the strange familiar." Your course-mates (and perhaps others - this is a public blog) will be reading your blog (not just your TA and I) and you will be required to comment on each other's work, so have fun with this and make it your own. I encourage you to use pictures and media - be creative! 

Finally - I don't want to sound preachy but I feel compelled to make one quick note about privacy. As you know, nothing on the Internet is truly secure. Do not share details about you and your life that you wouldn't want everyone to know. Your virtual persona will follow you into the real world and may have (positive or negative) effects on your future. So take care with what you post.