Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Final Blog Post - Please Reflect

Well, we've come to our final blog post (besides your long-form post, which I am looking forward to!). I'm curious to know about your thoughts on the importance of public/applied sociology.

Is it important for social scientists to find ways to connect with public audiences and make social science research accessible and relevant to the public discourse? Is it important for social scientists to practice public sociology in terms of their research questions and designs? Why or why not? And finally, was this class, and this line of questioning, useful to you? How or how not?

And, if you're interested in thinking about this further, here is a link to a video with Virginia Rutter. She talks about why public sociology is important to her. I think her story of how she came to sociology from a media background gives validity to the argument that sociology has a lot to offer to public discourse!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Prompts #3 and #5

Prompt #3
Choose a piece of sociological research that is relevant to your chosen topic and that you think the public should know about. Write a post that explains the research topic and question, the research methods, and the key findings. Tell them why this matters!

Prompt #5 & #7 (responses to #4 and #6)
Read your peers' popular media or cultural object links. Write a post that describes your observations about how social issues are presented to the public. What do you notice? Whose perspectives are represented? Whose are not? Are they informed by social science? What concerns do you have or what things should we think about?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Blog#2 Prompt: Sociologists (and others) Talk about Putting Sociology into Public Dialogue

This week I've asked us to read the thoughts of some sociologists (and a journalist!) about whether sociologists and their research is relevant to the public and in particular, in the public spaces where people come together to discuss and create the policies and laws that shape our world, about whether it "should" be made relevant in these spaces, and about how it might be made more relevant.

We begin by reading Patricia Hill Collin's short article from Contexts where she proposes two strategies of intellectual activism and suggests that both are necessary for "working across differences and building communities in which dialogue is possible" (37). We read Orlando Patterson's critique of sociology as having made itself irrelevant in policy debates, part because academics avoid "engaging in public discourse," because they neglect to highlight the importance of culture and engaging in public discourse for cultural change, and because they do not participate in designing research that would make a difference in the lives of those who are disadvantaged within society. Fabio Rojas explains why activism and academia don't mix, suggesting that the structural features of the academy constrain the efforts of academics to engage with public audiences. Then, Nathan Jurgenson provides suggestions for how academics 'can' become relevant. Finally, Karen Sternheimer, over at Everyday Sociology Blog, discusses "the promise and perils" of working with journalists to share sociological perspectives and research on current issues with the public. This serves as a nice complement to the perspective of a journalist, Barbara Ehrenreich, on working with sociologists/social scientists (an article from the edited volume, Public Sociology).

So, your task is to read this collection of articles and try to make some sense of them. What do you make of this debate? I have summarized the main ideas of their work, but you should identify and synthesize their arguments. Where do they agree? Disagree? From this collection of work, what are the roadblocks to social scientists seeking to engage with a public audience? Should social science influence public debate and public policy? How might it be done? To whom should the work be addressed? In your response, recall C. Wright Mills' discussion about the role of the social scientist. What would he say to these questions? And finally, what do you think? What do you make of the fact that this is a debate being had by people with advanced degrees at universities? How might the conversation change if we were to think in terms of how people with social science training outside of the university setting (and outside of the PhD) might engage with the public?

I look forward to reading your thoughts. Is anyone outside of the class reading along with us? What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

References to printed works (I have linked to blog posts above):

Collins, Patricia Hill. 2013. "truth-telling and intellectual activism" in Contexts 12:1, Pp. 36-39. Temple University Press.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. 2007. "A Journalist's Plea." Pp. 231-238 in Public Sociology, edited by Clawson, Dan, Robert Zussman, Joya Misra, Naomi Gerstel, Randall Stokes, Douglas L. Anderton, and Michael Burawoy. Berkeley, CA: University of CA Press.

Why Sociology?

I asked my students to begin their semester-long blogging project by sharing what draws them to sociology and how they might use it in the future. I figured I'd answer the same question. The short story is that when I was introduced to the sociological perspective by my wonderful Introduction to Sociology teacher, I had an "aha" moment. The topic was food insecurity and public versus private responses to food insecurity. I was someone who had been hungry on occasion and who understood well what it meant to be worried about my ability to provide food for myself and my children. I had also had dealt with public institutions such as the Dept. of Social Services and private organizations such as food banks. So in this Intro class, I learned about how the federal poverty line, which is used to determine who is eligible for assistance. I learned about public policy regarding food insecurity (or the lack thereof), and I learned about the constraints and limitations of the private charity system which has tried to fill in the gaps left by our public policy response to food insecurity (we read Sweet Charity, which remains on my bookshelf to this day). This structural perspective enabled me to begin to understand my experiences as an individual when I had applied for assistance with food at both public and private institutions.

And that is the definition of sociology - the ability to move from thinking about personal experience as an individual problem to seeing that personal experience within a larger social system. C. Wright Mills, who coined the term, "the sociological imagination," to describe how sociologists view the world, defined it as the ability to distinguish between personal troubles and public issues. While it is certainly the case that individuals have agency, that is, they make choices that affect their everyday lives and their life chances, they don't do that within a vacuum. We exist within a larger social system that influences what choices we have and how we behave. Therefore, the benefits of the sociological perspective are that by examining the social system, we can see where inequalities are created and maintained - such as ways that public policies fail to provide adequate solutions for food insecurity - and can suggest alternative policies.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Welcome to Fall Semester 2017 and to my SOCI 475 students.

Hi folks! Welcome to Sociology 475 - Senior Seminar. As you know, the framework for this class is public sociology. We are going to think about how our sociological perspective, social science research methods, and sociological analyses can be useful outside of academic spaces. Our course blogs will be our practice of communicating our sociological perspectives on the social problems about which we are interested to a public audience.

Here is the prompt for our first blog post:
In two to three paragraphs, consider what draws you to sociology and how you might use it in the future. Begin your post by telling us something about yourself and why it matters to you.

Throughout your post, answer the following questions:
  • How would you define sociology? What is the sociological perspective? 
  • What is useful about sociology? What are the benefits of the sociological perspective? 
  • How can it be used outside of academic walls?

A note for Criminal Justice Studies students:
  • Your answers might be somewhat different as you think about how the criminological (and sociological and feminist) perspectives about crime, punishment, policing, etc., are and could be useful for nonacademic audiences. 
For folks who are visiting: Here is a Wikipedia page about Public Sociology (not a scholarly source, but very useful!).