Mediating Media Responses to Tragedy: Considering How Social Science Could Influence Policy

The NonViolence Project takes its symbol from a sculpture inspired by the shooting death of John Lennon. Photo via nonviolence.com.

The NonViolence Project takes its symbol from a sculpture inspired by the shooting death of John Lennon. Photo via nonviolence.com.

Horrible events, such as mass shootings, typically gain a lot of media attention, with fear and political outrage not far behind. Social scientific knowledge about topics like violence, gun control, and mental illness, however, is often obscured or excluded from these reports and calls for action. This activity, which can be done as a group or individually, helps readers think about how social scientific evidence can influence policy:

  1. Browse the Internet to gather two or three news stories from the weeks following a recent mass shooting in the United States.
  2. What claims are made in these stories about the causes of mass shootings?
  3. What calls for change are made by victims’ families, politicians, experts, or others?
  4. What policies are suggested to address mass shootings?

Next, read “A Broader-Based Response to Shootings” by Chis Uggen and think about how social science evidence compares to media reports. What does the evidence suggest we should be doing to address these crimes?

Politics and Power

A still from the Public Enemy video for "Fight the Power." Chuck D, holding the bullhorn, has since become an outspoken agitator and public figure working toward equality and political participation.

A still from the Public Enemy video for “Fight the Power.” Chuck D, holding the bullhorn, has since become an outspoken agitator and public figure working toward equality and political participation.

In our volume The Social Side of Politics, Vincent J. Roscigno’s article, “Power, Sociologically Speaking,” serves as the lead essay. In it, we learn that you can’t discuss politics without discussing power. This activity helps highlight the point for students and instructors alike.

Guidelines for the facilitator:

  1. Make four signs labeled “agree,” “strongly agree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree.” Hang one sign in each corner of the room.
  2. Tell participants that you will read a statement about power (listed below). After you read the first, participants should move to stand under the sign that most closely reflects their reaction to the statement.
  3. After participants have assembled under the signs, ask each group to discuss why they picked that position and choose a spokesperson to explain their rationale to the entire group.
  4. After each group presents its opinion, as participants to return to the center of the room, then disperse, again, to the sign that most closely represents their reaction to the same statement. If they choose, participants can change their position. Ask a few to explain whether and why they changed—or did not change—their position after hearing out the other groups.
  5. Repeat for each statement, adding or subtracting to alter the length of the exercise.

Statements about Power:

  • Power corrupts.
  • You can’t get anything done without power.
  • Power is connected to race (class/gender/etc.).
  • People or organizations that want to change things in their community should seek power.

Desistance and Reentry: An activity for the LCD classroom

A scene from "The Road from Crime"

A scene from “The Road from Crime”

In our volume Crime and the Punished, we featured our interview with sociologist-filmmakers Shadd Maruna and Fergus McNeill. This activity builds from their film:

How and why people stop committing crime is an important question. “Discovering Desistance,” by Sarah Lageson and Sarah Shannon describes how two social scientists “co-created” “The Road from Crime,” a film about desistance from the perspective of former prisoners and the practitioners who work with them. Watch the 50-minute film as you consider these discussion questions:

  1. In what ways might the criminal justice system promote reoffending?
  2. According to the filmmakers, desistance is both an “internal” and an “external” process. Where do you see internal and external processes in the film.
  3. What punishment policies might be changed, added, or abandoned to better promote desistance?
  4. Most people who work in the criminal justice system have never been convicted of serious crimes. How might the system be different if it incorporated more input from people who had been punished under it?

After watching the film, imagine that you are a social worker in a community to which many ex-prisoners return. What resources do you think you’d need to address community needs and help former inmates desist from crime? What community leaders or organizations would you need to enlist for support? Discuss your thoughts in a group and draw up a list of the “stakeholders” whose voices are critical for designing your policy.

How to Use #Selfies as Sociological Exercises

Aoki-chainsmokers_v3Linda Catalano is a sociologist at Queens College and Hunter College. Follow her on Twitter at @SocThing.

Selfies, I’ve found, are a terrific way to begin to get across George Herbert Mead’s distinction between the “I” and the “me,” which students can find difficult to grasp and tend to resist. I’ve developed an exercise that incorporates selfies which works fairly well, but I suspect that there are even better ways of using selfies that draw out more of Mead than I’ve been able to do.

I’ve been using a textbook (Edles & Applerouth 2010) with several selections from Mind, Self & Society (Mead 1934) in which Mead outlines his famous concept of the self as incorporating two phases, the “I” and the “me.” I was surprised to discover that my students have considerable trouble with this notion, and given the choice, avoid questions about it on exams.

Why students resist. Students don’t like Mead for many reasons. Aside from the fact that they often have trouble with his long and convoluted prose, students tend to have several conceptual difficulties. First, they have trouble with the way that, for Mead, social reality is all process. Students tend to feel their conceptual ground turn into quicksand, that they have nothing to hang on to. (more…)

Bringing the “Beautiful Game” to the Classroom

Photo by Steve Tulk via flickr CC

Photo by Steve Tulk via flickr CC

The following is a guest post written by Kyle Green and Alex Manning. Kyle and Alex are sociology Ph.D students at the University of Minnesota. Kyle is a member of The Society Pages graduate board and co-host of the Office Hours podcast. His research focuses on culture, sport, gender, and the body. Alex researches race, youth, parenting, and sport.

This World Cup, soccer is on American’s minds at levels never reached before. Fans are filling bars, coffee shops, and even massive stadiums to cheer on the US national team. World Cup fervor has led many in the U.S. media to ask the once every four-year question, “has soccer made it in America?” Large television numbers, a sizeable number of American fans supporting in Brazil (Americans bought 7% percent of world cup tickets, only trailing Brazilians), large participation numbers, and increased youth consumption of the game, have all contributed to public discussion about the game’s popularity and place in the United States.  While there has been much excitement surrounding soccer and the World Cup, some have reacted to the popularity of the tournament with fear, dismissal, and outrage (here and here).

Audience: This activity would work well in a number of courses including Introduction to Sociology, Race, Class, & Gender, Sport & Society, and Sociology of Consumption.

Summary: In this activity the class works together drawing on personal experiences and associations with soccer to think about the social spaces the sport fills and to connect the participation and consumption patterns of the sport to larger social trends. In doing so the students will use their sociological imagination to begin to understand the fervor, both positive and negative, surrounding the World Cup. (more…)

The Danger of a Single Story

This year I taught Introduction to Sociology. In order to discuss the power of discourse in society, I showed by students Chimamanda Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk called “The Danger of a Single Story“. My students were enamored. We had a fascinating and engaging discussion about single stories and the ways in which they affected my students’ lives and their engagement with the world around them. As a result of this phenomenal class, I developed the following assignment that I thought other sociologists would like to adapt to fit their courses.

Assignment Description and Instructions:

Chimamanda Adichie passionately and clearly teaches us the “danger of a single story” in her 2009 TED Talk. (You can find it here: http://www.npr.org/2013/09/20/186303292/what-are-the-dangers-of-a-single-story). Adichie demonstrates the ways in which our society is a collection of social stories or narratives, the most pervasive and controlling of which are/were manufactured by people with social power (the power elite).

Single stories can include stereotypes, ideologies and, what sociologists call, cultural hegemony. Stereotypes are overly simplistic generalizations about a subgroup of peoples. Those that “stick” often are constructed by people with power and used to limit opportunities for the stereotypes’ subjects. Ideologies are sets of ideas that shape how people make sense of the world around them. Depending on the social power of those holding and employing these ideologies, they can have significant impact on social structures and the life chances of others. Cultural hegemony is a system beliefs, norms, and values, shaped by the ruling-class, that justifies the status-quo as natural or normal, and thus makes it invisible. These discourses shape what is knowable and sayable in any given context.

For your papers, you will select a societal single story and analyze it. The first paper will examine a stereotype, the second an ideology, and the third a hegemonic narrative. For each, you will explore the story, its origins, its functions, and its impact on society. You will then examine the alternative stories: those told by the victims of the single story and/or those who are able to see through the discursive fog. Finally, you will propose ways to change the story both in your daily life and on a broader scale. As you move through these projects, also reflect on the ways in which stereotypes, ideologies, and hegemonic narratives are intertwined/not clearly separated. (more…)

Summer Lovin’ and the Sexual Double Standard

Grease
“Hooking up” on college campuses has been the focus of a number of debates, both in the media and in sociology, over the past several years. Some argue that casual sexual encounters are detrimental to women’s self-esteem but that hookup culture “hurts boys too.” Others assert that hooking up, which has supposedly replaced dating on college campuses, is leaving both men and women “unhappy, sexually unfulfilled, and confused about intimacy.” Many sociologists, including Paula England and Lisa Wade, have been in the midst of these cultural debates about hooking up and its effects on young adults.

As hookup culture on college campuses seems relevant (or at least an interesting topic of discussion) to students in my classes, I spend a class during the weeks on gender and sexuality addressing the sociological debates about hooking up and casual sex. There is no shortage of readings that could be assigned on this topic, including many popular media articles. One of the readings that I always assign, “Is hooking up bad for young women?” from Contexts a few years ago by Elizabeth Armstrong, Laura Hamilton, and Paula England, does a great job of outlining the debates about hookup culture that continue to be relevant. (This article was also the focus of another Teaching TSP post several years ago). I also have them read Hanna Rosin’s article from The Atlantic and Lisa Wade’s response from Soc Images.

One of the points of discussion, the sexual double standard, is repeatedly brought up with frustration by female students in my classes. Why are women who have casual sex considered sluts while men are practically given a medal for hooking up? As I initially struggled to navigate these discussions, I turned to an unlikely place for guidance, the classic musical Grease. Who hasn’t belted out “Summer Lovin’” on the dance floor with friends?

As Sandra Dee (Olivia Newton John ) and Danny Zuko (John Travolta) trade off singing about their summer romance, they seem to be describing two different relationships. Sandra Dee tells her friends, “He was sweet, just turned eighteen,” as Danny dishes, “She was good, you know what I mean?” This song, it turns out, is a perfect illustration of different gender norms when it comes to sexuality.

For the class activity, I have students divide a sheet of paper into two columns with one side for Sandra Dee and the other for Danny Zuko. As they watch the Summer Lovin’ footage from Grease, I ask them to take notes in each column of quotes or themes from the song that reflect gender norms and the sexual double standard.  Afterwards, we make a list on the board of the stark differences in gender norms around sexuality.

I use this activity as a jumping off point from which to discuss the roots of the sexual double standard and some of the issues with hookup culture. Some questions that we consider in class discussion include:

1)     How could hooking up be considered bad for men or women or both? What could you argue are the benefits to hooking up?

2)     How do gender norms operate within hookup culture (Lisa Wade’s article does a particularly good job of outlining this issue)?

3)     Does hookup culture have the potential to disrupt the sexual double standard or to change gender norms?

Teaching about Whiteness, Part 1: Whiteness as a Visa

Teaching about whiteness is a sensitive subject that requires tact, humility, and patience.  While learning about whiteness is critical for all students, regardless of race, the subjective connections many white students have to whiteness itself can stir up intense emotions we must be ready to wrestle with.  Learning about white privilege forces white students to grapple with the ubiquity of unquestioned worldviews and assumptions about their biographies.  It also forces white students to interrogate their experiences as beneficiaries of a set of social, economic and political advantages.  In short, confronting whiteness necessitates a self-imposed threat to one’s integrity and achievements attributed to individual will.

I.  You can begin your lecture by presenting students with a couple of scenarios.

Active learning exercises

  • Imagine a scenario in which a black woman and a white woman are both shopping in the same grocery store.  After collecting all of their items, both women enter the same checkout line.  The white woman is before the black woman in line.  When the white woman is checking out, she presents the cashier with a check.  The cashier accepts the check and completes the transaction.  When the black woman is checking out, she also presents the cashier with a check.  However, the cashier says “I’m going to have to see some identification.”   The cashier also makes clear that the ID must be a state/government-issued ID (e.g. Driver’s license, passport).  Student ID’s or employee badges are unacceptable.  How did whiteness function (or not) for each woman?
  • Kareem is a 23-year old African-American male.  He’s applied for several jobs without receiving a call back from prospective employers.  After several fruitless attempts to find work, Kareem decides to deliberately use his middle name, John, on all subsequent job applications.  Within two days of submitting an application, Kareem receives a call from a prospective employer asking him to come in for an interview.  How do you see Kareem’s interview unfolding?

II.   Here are some questions to orient class discussion.

  • How is a commitment to whiteness also a commitment to white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and heteropatriarchy?
  • Whose whiteness is accepted/declined?  What social contexts promote one outcome over the other?
  • How will your students become more responsible or achieve what some describe as “color consciousness”?

III.  Next, introduce the image below.

whiteness visa

It’s everywhere you want to be.

IV.   Ask students what they think this image implies.
 
V.   Here are four metaphorical meanings to consider.

    1. Visa as the credit card.  “It’s everywhere you want to be.”  The issue is that it’s also everywhere I (and other people of color) want to be too.
    2. Visa (as a travel authorization document).  I see whiteness operating as a sort of passport for some, as well as a pass-port for certain others (i.e. mixed-race or racially-ambiguous folk).
    3. Visa as a form of currency constantly being exchanged between all racial/ethnic groups within the interpersonal marketplaces of society.  This means that whiteness is not solely exercised by whites, but also appropriated by nonwhites.
    4. Similar to an actual Visa credit card, whiteness is a transnational form of currency accepted worldwide and often wielded as a means of legitimating imperialist aims.

To learn more about whiteness and other un-interrogated cognitive frames, feel free to check out the following literature:

References

Feagin, Joe R.  2010.  The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing.  New York, NY: Routledge.

Lipsitz, George. 2006.  The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics.  Philadelphia, PA: Temple             University Press.

Mills, Charles W. 1997.  The Racial Contract. New York, NY: Cornell University Press.

Guest Post: Extra Credit on the Sociology of Halloween

Click to watch Francesca Ramsey on #CostumeFails

Click to watch Francesca Ramsey on #CostumeFails

As many Sociology and Feminist blogs are writing, it’s that time of year. The racist, classist, homophobic, sexist tendencies and expressions make me cringe.

This morning, for my Soc 101 class — a large lecture setting of over 150 students — I decided to offer an extra credit project. As discussed previously, students struggle with this large GE style class. I like to offer meaningful, analytical extra credit projects through out the semester.

I use Allen Johnson‘s text called, Forest & the Trees, Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise and we are about to begin the inequality chapter. So, perfect timing. Feel free to use the assignment (below) and revise it as you wish.

I want to give a shout out to the scholars, blogs and websites that had all the material available. :-) I would love to keep adding to this assignment and publish a bit earlier in the fall for next year. So, I welcome you to post additional links. For example, I don’t have a “working class” resource but we certainly have seen offensive “white trash” parties, costumes, etc.

PS — My own kids are going trick-or-treating as twin witches. I have a 4 year old Pablo and a 3 year old Cecilia. Pablito chose their costumes. We usually do about four houses, and then head back to our own house to hand out candy. Our block is pretty scary for Halloween!

The Sociology of Halloween

STEP 1 – DO SOME RESEARCH AND LEARNING (RACE / GENDER) 

1) Watch the video and read the overviews…
http://www.gender-focus.com/2013/10/24/ffff-franchesca-ramseys-halloween-costume-fails/
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/costume-cultural-appropriation
http://www.sociologyinfocus.com/2012/10/29/were-a-culture-not-a-costume/
2) Learn about what is wrong with “black face” costumes here:
http://racismschool.tumblr.com/post/18422652908/black-face-vs-white-face-whats-the-difference 

3) Use this website as a way to analyze others’ costumes. (In encourage you to make adjustments to your own costume if needed!)
http://www.anorak.co.uk/337909/news/this-hampshire-halloween-checklist-is-your-costume-racist.html/

4) Couples costumes?
http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/10/23/heteronormativity-in-halloween-costumes/

5) Sexist costumes – double standard (bacon, yes bacon)
http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/10/24/a-halloween-gender-binary/

6) How things have changed? Are girls dressed up “sexier”?
http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/10/27/halloween-costumes-then-and-now/

7) American Indian costumes – why they are offensive
http://nativeappropriations.com/2011/10/halloween-costume-shopping-a-sampling-of-the-racism-for-sale.html
http://nativeappropriations.com/2011/10/open-letter-to-the-pocahotties-and-indian-warriors-this-halloween.html

8) Dog costumes
http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/10/24/can-we-at-least-agree-that-its-racist-to-dress-your-dog-up-like-a-racial-caricature/

9) How do you politely explain to a friend that their chosen Halloween costume could be racist?
http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2009/10/28/how-to-inform-a-friend-their-halloween-costume-is-racist/

STEP 2 — OBSERVE YOUR SOCIAL WORLD
 
Whether you dress up or not, on Thursday check out the costumes people are wearing. Become an embedded Sociologist as you attend parties, while you are at work, go trick-or-treating with your kids, or just walk around outside.

Note what people are wearing, note the racial undertones (or racist costumes), the gender performances of men and women in their costumes, etc. Note how people dress their dogs, kids, etc., on these issues as well.

Write up what you see / hear in detail. Insert photos in your word document if you wish. Do this Friday, so your memory is fresh!! (You can send me your notes if you want to show me your progress.)

Then, reflect explicitly on what you have learned from the above websites and resources. Include the course material from Unit 4 / Forest&Trees Chapter 3. Be sure you are clear about what sources you are using and drawing upon in your discussion. Tie all this together — what you see, what you learned, and your reflections.

No need to do “official” citations but do mention the website, video, or author as you reflect on them.

Aim for 2-3 pages of text. Turn in a paper copy to me in class AND post on “Caring is Sharing Forum” at the top of our course website.

DUE DATE — Wednesday, November 6 in class / uploaded that night.
 
Earn up to five points!!!

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You can follow Dr. Clark-Ibáñez on Twitter at @MCIcsusm

Films and Documentaries

T1062673_01
We are looking to make teaching TSP a home for lists of useful films, documentaries, memoirs, and books of fiction to be used when teaching sociology (see our post on Sport and Society Films).

If you have a request for a specific topic or course, let us know in the comments. And, if you have a list to share, definitely let us know in the comments.