When we here at Sociology Lens decided to dedicate July to posts about teaching, I had so much excitement. After all, graduate student advice month had gone over so well, why wouldn’t another themed month that is also relevant. I mean, is teaching not a significant part of what we do as sociologists? But there was one problem… I’ve never taught before. What could I offer in my posts?
Really. I had a very difficult time thinking of something, of anything, to offer. I’ve never even been a teaching assistant! Being in the classroom, beyond one or two guest lectures, is something that baffles me. On top of that, being so young (no more than 2 years older than some college seniors) and fresh out of college myself, how I could I really be considered an authority on being the teacher?
In patriarchal societies, men tend to take advantage of their power, and privilege. This privilege comes so easily because it is invisible to them, which makes men blind to their control over society. Besides, the concept of privilege is based on its omnipresent invisibility. The affordances of privilege cost many people, more so women, relegation to the outliers of society, and nearly incapable of controlling power. At times, certain men have an inclination to enforce, and monopolize, on their power in the workplace; i.e. make sexual propositions, or sexual innuendos, at their female-identified coworkers. The majority of sexual harassment cases stem from the workplace, so what happens when these situations happen in the general public? Furthermore, what happens when sexual harassment, whether physical, or verbal, occur between those of the same gender?
I’m no teaching expert, but I am fortunate that I’ve had plenty of practice in it. Thanks to a sympathetic professor at my old University I was given the chance to do some seminar teaching when I was just 23, and I ended up doing it for five years, during which time I also completed my Masters. I then went to Korea and taught ESL for two years. Now I’m doing my PhD and I lead some sociology seminars. So somehow I’ve accumulated over seven years (!) of experience in a variety of environments, and I’ve attended plenty of teaching workshops and completed a month-long CELTA course in ESL teaching. Teaching is a challenge but I find it very rewarding and character-building. It’s also a good way to brush up on new (and old) topics – “the best way to learn is to teach” is a cliché, but there’s a lot of truth in it.
Teaching can be quite nerve-wracking so here are a few pointers which might come in handy, especially for seminars when the aim is to stimulate discussion, debate and understanding.
1. Build a rapport
The first time you enter a classroom with twenty-odd freshers can be daunting. They are new to each other, and new to you. They can often be young, shy and unsure of what is expected of them. Breaking the ice is really important if you want them to open up and TALK! It may sound a bit childish, but I find that a couple of quick ice-breaker tasks can be well worth the time spent in the long run. I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve which I picked up from my ESL days. The first is to get students to talk to their partner and get some information from them like their name, hometown, their reason for choosing this course, and ‘one thing they are worried/excited about’. You can then ask a few students to report back to the class on what they’ve learnt. The busyteacher website has a load of other ice-breaker exercises.
Using student’s names is also really important for building rapport. Again, it might sound childish, but getting the students to make a name-sign and place it in front of them can be a great way to help you remember and use their names. People respond a lot better when you use their names (I know I do!), and name signs are much easier to look at, instead of glancing away at your register.
2. Expect little or no reading
Perhaps the biggest problem with teaching undergrads is that they don’t do the required reading. If you’re a postgrad student it can be assumed that you have a passion and enthusiasm for your subject, and it can be disheartening to see students who just don’t seem to care very much. But remember that you were once in their shoes, and classes were only one aspect of life as an undergrad – when you are an eighteen-year old, things like girls/boys, nightlife, and the thrill of living away from ones parents often take precedence over reading dusty or difficult academic readings!
There are two ways to deal with this: one – get angry and chastise the students that they aren’t taking the course seriously; or two – remind them that reading is important for getting good grades, but try and lead the seminar as well as you can. There is often (though not always) scope for tweaking the discussion questions so that students can discuss a topic with reference to their own experiences, rather than to a particular author or scholar. You can also put students into small groups so that the more eager students who have done the reading can help those who haven’t. The lazier students might thus also be shamed into reading more in future. Might.
3. ‘Translate’ academic language
Usually I have lead seminars in modules which I have not written myself. Someone more senior (the module convenor or co-ordinator) has prepared the materials and my role is to just deliver the seminars. This can be frustrating when the reading material and/or discussion questions are difficult and the students are intimidated by them. If this happens I try and re-phrase certain questions to make them more digestible. For example, the ‘scary’ question “What consequences did the shift from fordism to post-fordism have on class relations and class identities?” might be replaced by smaller, easier questions which I’ll project or write on the board: “What do you think Fordism means?”, “How is it different from what we have today?”, “if people do different kinds of jobs then what kind of class might they identify as?”
Putting one student on the spot is a guaranteed way to get a tumble-weed moment. I usually give students time to discuss questions in small groups for a few minutes before I ask for their responses in front of the whole class, in my slower version of the well-known ‘Pause, Pose, Pounce’ teaching strategy. During this time I’ll go around the class and make sure the students aren’t just checking their phones, and clear up any misunderstandings.
To help facilitate this, make sure chairs and desks are in a seminar setting of small clusters so students aren’t just sat in rows staring at you at the front. A seminar is NOT supposed to be like a lecture, and you can make a huge difference to the atmosphere of a class by the way you set up the environment. If students sit down in small groups facing one another, they can mentally prepare themselves for more discursive, less passive learning activities.
5. Believe in yourself!
Teaching for the first time is scary. Even teachers with years of experience tell me that they get nerves before a new term starts, because they fear that they might have got rusty over summer vacation, or they might just have forgotten everything! But remember that students will respect you and will trust in what you say far more than you realise. If you have graduated from a BA and an MA in a particular topic, then you can surprise yourself with just how much knowledge you have picked up along the way. You can be a source of knowledge and of inspiration to younger students, and as you are often younger then the Big Bad Professors, you might be more approachable for them.
Being a PhD student, it’s easy to compare oneself to one’s peers or superiors, who are often highly intelligent, accomplished and capable scholars. This can be daunting. Teaching undergrads can remind you of just how far you’ve come, and can give you a health sense of perspective on what you’ve learnt and accomplished on your academic journey already, and how much more you can achieve in the future.
This is a guest post by Jenny Dick-Moser. Jenny is a doctoral candidate at Virginia Tech studying Sociology, Health, and Women’s and Gender Studies. Jenny just recently accepted a position as a disability rights advocate at the Disability Law Center of Virginia.
Sociology Lens News Editor Megan Nanney (mnanney) saw Jenny present on this topic at a departmental symposium and felt that this important information should be shared with those looking to teach courses and for general knowledge in daily life. Thank you, Jenny, for sharing!
Being a self-identified disabled feminist in academia means a lot of people come to me for advice in how to make their disability accommodation statements on their syllabi. For many, the accommodation statement can be as awkward and perplexing for the non-disabled as it can be to interact with disabled people in real life. I’ve had countless interactions with non- disabled people who perform linguistic gymnastics to avoid the word disability and seem to be unclear about how or if to address the crippled elephant in the room.
For the first time in the history of FIFA’s 2015 Women’s World Cup, the competition is being played on artificial turf. Consequently coverage leading up to the first match between home team Canada and China tended to focus less on predicting outcomes of the game and more on the material of the pitch. Players and their supporters raised objections in an effort to express discontent and to attempt to change FIFA’s new and to-many-puzzling policy much like a social movement might engage in framing. This comparison is appropriate because a hierarchal, non-democratic institution handed down the policy, leaving no built-in space for discussion or recourse. Appealing for change in this instance is very much like petitioning a government.
Framing theory is a dominant thread of social movement research that may help us understand how the players and others who advocated in their stead approached challenging FIFA’s decree. Collective action frames name a problem (“diagnostic framing”) and endorse a particular solution (“prognostic framing”) but they also serve to mobilize the affected and their sympathizers (“motivation framing”)(Snow and Benford 1988). I will argue those who have questioned FIFA’s turf decision have employed all three of these strategies to varying degrees of success.
First we must identify who has petitioned for change. Abby Wambach, illustrious forward of the reigning champions and holder of the international record for goals scored of any gender, has lead the charge but she is flanked by teammates and members of rival squads alike. Sports journalists have been vocal and male allies from a variety of backgrounds have raised objections as well-Tom Hanks, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Howard among them. There is also a precedent for understanding sports as “space for politics” in which soccer fans have agitated for changes they would like to see implemented.
In general, the women’s framing has taken a shotgun style approach-throw everything at the wall and see what will stick-but three frames which combine empirical evidence and appeals to emotions have been consistently employed.. The first two-legalistic unfairness and undue predictability in game play-have been predominantly raised by affected players while the third-potential for injuries-is popular with both players and external parties.
Last fall, a group of women players representing at least a dozen countries attempted to sue FIFA in the Human Rights Tribune of Ontario for alleged violations Canada’s Human Rights Code which guarantees equal access to facilities . The legal suit represents claimants’ attempts to classify the decision to play on turf as a symptom of gender inequality targeting women. The second frame blends with the third at the edges. Turf requires a different style of play due to the inability to anticipate the way the ball will bounce compared to grass fields. This unpredictability has also lead to women being more reserved for fear of destroying the resource that enables them to play the game- their bodies.
Numerous sports journalists, medical professionals and players have highlighted the increased potential for injuries. Sydney LeRoux Dwyer, another forward for the United States’ team, posted a graphic picture to Twitter displaying her resulting injuries.
Collective action frames are not pre-packaged beliefs but meanings and narratives produced over time that tie together facts, assumptions, and intent. Social movement actors and organizations-or in this instance, women soccer players and their sympathizers-make framing choices-both deliberately and incidentally-that affect how they present their claims about reality, particularly what they identify as their locus for change and their beliefs about how to secure it. Any singular conception of a problem that is presented is interwoven with assumptions about the origin and nature of the conflict, which can preclude the applicability, marketability, and even identification of potential solutions. In this instance, for example, the perception that playing on turf disproportionately affects one gender guided the players’ decisions to pursue legal action. Moreover, the latter two frames are undergirded by assumptions that sporting competitions should be fair and minimize harm to their participants.
Borrowing from extant cultural scripts with which audiences are already acquainted can be one means of garnering credibility and salience (Spillman 1995). Conversely, previously conditioned scripts may also act as a barrier if social movement claims counter existing assumptions. Accordingly, the relative powerlessness of individual women soccer players, cultural norms that diminish the value of women athletes relative to men athletes, the United States’ lack of national investment in the sport, and the few other professional options available for women players could prevent the success of their framing efforts. To boycott FIFA’s decision by abstaining from playing in the World Cup, as was suggested in the wake of the failed lawsuit, would be to forfeit the rare time and energy devoted to women’s soccer on the international stage. Furthermore, while one’s role obviously affects one’s perspective on the turf, but it may also impact audience reception of claims. While many seem receptive to criticisms of FIFA’s decision, plenty of Twitter commentary suggests otherwise, casting outspoken women players as ‘whiny babies’ who should ‘man up.’
Despite the popularity of framing attempts, their multiple approaches to framing were unsuccessful in changing the turf for this year’s Women’s World Cup. The legal suit was rejected and FIFA held firm. Unlike in the past when sports teams have attempted to procure public funds to implement changes perceived as necessary, several private companies have offered to pay to install grass. FIFA claims their reticence to change was because Canada’s original bid for the Women’s 2015 World Cup specified field turf. FIFA’s recalcitrance may be an issue of the absence of a financial incentive. As of June 14, the 2015 Women’s World Cup had seen a 30% increase in ticket sales from the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany.
Recent revelations of rampant corruption in FIFA’s operations may provide a political opportunity to prevent turf from being relied upon in the future. On one hand, FIFA officials’ impropriety reflects poorly on the organization as a whole and casts doubt on their internal calculus. Their decision-making processes being called into question in one realm could generate a public relations kerfuffle that discourages the organization from making contested decisions in the future. On the other hand, the hubbub surrounding the men’s 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar may deflect attention away from the issue women players have furiously tried to make central. If FIFA’s poor management does not spark change for future Women’s World Cups, the outcome of this year’s competition may serve as a lesson. If major outliers are removed, this World Cup’s games have averaged half a goal less from 2011. For a sport notoriously beleaguered by long periods of inaction, declines in exciting plays may be a relevant future consideration for its governing body.
Snow, David A., and Robert D. Benford.1988. “Ideology, Frame Resonance, and Participant Mobilization.” International Social Movement Research 1(1): 197-217.
Spillman, Lyn. 1995. “Culture, Social Structures, and Discursive Fields.” Current Perspectives in Social Theory. 15(1): 129-154.
The concept of the “closet,” linguistically, served as the foundation, and means, to identify as a homosexual, or LGBTQ. Within her text, The Epistemology of the Closet, Kosofsky Sedgwick offers numerous ways to define the “closet.” However, there are two definitions pertinent to our understanding of the “closet.” The first definition of the “closet” is described as, “a room for privacy or retirement” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008d: 65) and the second, more appealing, definition of the “closet” has an added word before it: “skeleton in the closet (or cupboard): a private or concealed trouble in one’s house or circumstances, ever present, and ever liable to come into view” (Kosofsky Sedgwick, 2008e: 65). To have something, or to be, in the “closet” points out something that is hidden or kept private from others, never to be discerned. It, also, points to a power relation, or antagonism, between sexualities, and sexuality known as knowledge. Currently, it is common for individuals of the LGBTQ community to ask one another if they are “out of the closet.” Yet, to ask someone if they are “out of the closet” is to pry into their secret: they are asked to elucidate, or bring to life, the sexual identity one feels they must hide and fear. more...
What’s in a job title? If an academic came on the radio, TV or wrote a piece in a newspaper, would their title as a ‘sociologist’, ‘political scientist’, or ‘economist’ make a difference to the credence afforded to them? Of course it would. Economists trump the lot. Before he or she (it’s usually ‘he’) has uttered a word, an Economist appears more professional, more impressive, schooled in the hard science of trade and finance, rather than the wishy-washy relativists of the ‘soft’ social sciences like er… me.
Policy-makers and the media listen to economists, and the policy prescriptions they offer often have far-reaching social, political and even environmental implications. Economists know that unlike they will get an audience, as shown last week when Thomas Piketty, Ha-joon Chang and 75 other economists wrote an open letter to George Osborne last week, criticising his policy to bury Keynesian economics forever by banning future governments from ever running budget deficits. It made the news in a way that 77 sociologists never would.
The prominence of economists in policy-making and in the media is of interest to me because it might help explain our obsession with GDP growth. We hear politicians talk about ‘going for growth’, or aspiring to a ‘growth-based recovery’. Growth wins elections, growth keeps governments in power. We rarely question it, but there are reasons to be sceptical about our obsession with it. Last year’s report by the IMF, suggesting that inequality is bad for growth and more unequal economies are more prone to booms and busts, caused quite a stir mainly due to the fact that it was written by respected economists and played into the idea that growth is always the goal. Anti-poverty charity Oxfam welcomed the report, saying it shows “extreme inequality is damaging not only because it is morally unacceptable, but it’s bad economics”, also echoing esteemed economist Joseph Stiglitz’s view that despite strong average GDP growth in the United States since the 1980s, incomes have not increased for the vast majority of Americans. Take-home messages: Inequality is bad for growth, and the benefits of growth often only reach the few, not the many. more...
I will never forget my first Pride. I was living in New York City for the summer working as an intern at the Human Rights Watch. The office, last minute, decided to join the parade with people from the office and their families marching with signs regarding LGBT human rights issues. I got to carry the HRW banner (pictured above, I’m on the right) that read clearly “Tyranny has a Witness.” How many people can actually say their first Pride was one that you got to be in the parade, let alone in New York City? The whole parade we walked the behind a float with drag queens that had “It’s Raining Men” on repeat. I’ll never forget watching the people on the sides, decked out in rainbow flags from head to toe, and a few protesters with signs. When we got to Christopher Street, the home of Stonewall Inn, the crowd thickened with hoards of people waiting to party the night away. Being in that parade was electrifying. Being part of an event that celebrated diversity and human rights and my (not then out) self is something I will never forget.
But what is forgotten throughout Pride month is the history of the LGBT rights movement and why we celebrate. (Hint: it’s not about marriage equality). What is lost amongst the corporate sponsorship is the message of visible difference in the street, marching to take back our space and to celebrate ourselves and to celebrate being different. What is erased is the diversity within the LGBT community, along with the white-washing, patriarchal, and homonormative reduction of a group of individuals to a singular community. While my post today is not meant to retell the entire history of the LGBT rights movement, it is important to know that it doesn’t begin with Stonewall. So then, why do we always attribute that last Sunday in June to the riots that served as a “shot heard around the world?” Is the original tradition of Pride dead?
Recently I found myself at a bar in New York City on a Friday night with another female friend, where we had a starkly twenty-first century encounter. A polite man in his early thirties who was alone at the bar helped my friend and I find adjacent bar stools. He then sat on the stool next to my friend, and some other young women were sitting on his other side. I had a strange urge to study that man and saw him pull out his phone shortly after everyone in the immediate vicinity was seated. Not long after, he opened the Tinder application. For the next few hours, he sipped on his drinks and swiped away at pictures of women on this popular dating app, while physically surrounded by various women in their mid to late twenties, many of whom could possibly be single and available.
In many ways this is great news: we don’t like unsubstantiated social stigma, and this sure allows for a wider range of the community – including those that may experience trouble approaching potential suitors because of a myriad of potential social anxieties – to explore romantic possibilities. In the Western world and countries like the U.S. a substantially large population has access to this system: really all you need is a mobile device and Internet connection. It is at once the most socialist and capitalist forms of dating, too. Most people have equal access to these platforms and the users within these platforms, yet those with the highest erotic capital are the most likely to succeed. While this is slightly concerning in that any hierarchical distribution of human beings is concerning, it is not all that different from the non-virtual social world. People are attracted to people they find attractive – excuse my tautology – whether because of inherent or socially conditioned preferences, both online and offline. I’m not qualified to discuss the problems associated with that at length; however, I would like to address a tangentially related, possibly much larger social problem that online dating seems to have gotten some reputation for perpetuating: that of race and racially based discrimination.
According to data collected by OkCupid, another popular online dating platform, racially based bias in choosing potential romantic partners has increased between 2009 and 2014! People have less control over who occupies physical spaces traditionally popular for meeting people, such as bars or cafes, so they are more likely to meet and approach people from different racial backgrounds. However, in online dating, the options are numerous, allowing for the room to discount any potential candidate for any reason whatsoever. To provide a non-race related thought experiment: an extremely left-of-center woman, whose politics are integral to her life, encounters an attractive man at a bookstore and decides to approach him. They talk and there is instant spark, so they go on a few dates. On their third date the woman finds out the man’s political beliefs are extremely right of center. Whether or not it is a deal breaker in this scenario depends somewhat on the first two dates. In the online dating version of this, there probably wouldn’t be two dates to begin with because people often have information like political beliefs listed on their profile, and because there are so many choices, this hypothetical woman would have little need to give this hypothetical man a chance.
The problem is: alignment of political beliefs is a matter of compatibility, whereas specific racial preferences are a matter of institutionalized differences that reinforce racial bias. Whether or not attraction to specific physical attributes – particularly skin color – are intrinsic is an ongoing debate; however, it is difficult to argue that online dating has made these kinds of selection practices easier.
So, to go back to the man who was using Tinder alone at the bar: he was a white male, physically surrounded by women of color, as he “swiped right” – the Tinder equivalent of a “like” – for only white women. The man’s personal preferences for romantic partners matters little; however, the implications here are important to keep in mind: online dating allows for a more covert form of racial bias in the dating world.
The economist Karl Marx believed for society to change, there was a need for an uprising, and an overthrowing of the ruling class; the bourgeoisie. To Marx, no person would truly be free unless this rebellion would occur. Marx is known for his theories about the economy, workers, and social life. One concept, of his, that appeals to my attention is the division of society into two classes. However, what Marx failed to realize, was by this division, he, essentially, enabled a space to create gendered spaces; or, what I will label a sexual differentiation of space. more...
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