Category Archives: Teaching Tips

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.

Note: not all stereotypes and ideologies are examples of single stories. Those that are systemically affect the life chances of marginalized people in society and are not abutted by substantial alternative narratives. The stereotype or ideology you select for this paper must also be an example of a single story.

Although the story you choose is up to you, there are specific requirements for your analysis. In using a sociological lens to analyze the story you should engage with both data and social theories. Use your sociological imagination.

  • The Story: Explain the single story you chose. To do this, outline its narrative and logic. What is the story? What social inequality or issue does it attempt to explain?
  • Start the Story Earlier: Analyze where the story originated. Who created the story? What is the function/dysfunction of the story? What happens if you start the story here/earlier? How does the narrative shift?
  • Explore its Impact on Identity, Perceptions of Others, Social Relations, and Social Institutions: How does the story affect people’s sense of self? How does it affect the way people understand each other? How does the story affect contemporary social relations? How does it contribute to the perpetuation of inequality in society? How has it become institutionalized?
  • Listen to Alternative Stories: What is the story told by the subjects of the story? How does the story shift if you listen to these testimonies? What happens to the story if you follow the perspective of those most oppressed by it/and or those able to see through the narrative?
  • Change the Story: How can the story be changed? What can you do in your daily life to contribute to shifting the narrative? What can be done on a broader scale?

Non-Service Learning Version

  • Course Materials: Your paper should incorporate course materials to explore these concepts or ideas. This can include information from class discussion, films shown in class, and class readings. Use at least three sources from the course.
  • Data and Evidence: You need to draw on specific examples in order to show the existence, origins, and impact of these stories. To do this you will need to use at least three outside sources. These sources must be academic in nature. If you cannot find it on Google Scholar or in academic journals, you should run the source by me.
  • Include a reference page at the end of the paper that includes materials cited both from the course and your additional research.

Service Learning Version

  • Course Materials: Your paper should incorporate course materials to explore these concepts or ideas. This can include information from class discussion, films shown in class, and class readings. Try to use at least three sources from class discussion.
  • Data and Evidence: Rather than doing library research, your data will come from your service-learning site. It will involve your ability to think critically about what you see and to open your ears, mind, and heart to alternative possibilities. You will use stories from your experiences in order to answer the questions posed by this project. It may be the case that you have a hard time finding three stories that relate to your site. If this challenge (or any challenge) arises, talk to me.

Learning Outcomes

The primary goal of this activity is to foster critical thinking skills. It enables students to think reflectively about social stories, whether they be stereotypes, ideologies, or hegemonic narratives, and to deconstruct them. Students will develop skills they can use throughout their lives to see through historical forces and constructed discourse: including the essential ability to listen to subaltern voices. Finally, this assignment empowers students to think of constructive ways to challenge “single stories” in their social networks and broader communities.

Note: Thought not a requirement, you may want to consider selecting related stereotypes, ideologies, and hegemonic narratives so that you can also examine how they are related and how power flows between them.

Evaluation Criteria (based on presence and quality of required elements)

  • Paper includes a strong organizing theme (the story) presented in a clear thesis.
  • Thesis/theme is developed and supported throughout the paper.
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses the nature of the story.
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses the origins and intentions/functions of the story.
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses the impact of the story on peoples’ identity, understandings of each other, and broader social relations (including institutions).
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses the alternative stories told by those marginalized and/or those able to see through the fog of hegemony.
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses possibilities for change in one’s life, community, and broader society.
  • Paper is well written, reflective, and interesting.
  • Paper includes required citations

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!!!

—–

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

Sport and Society – Films and Documentaries!

The following is a collection of films, both fiction and non-fiction, that have been recommended for use in a Sport and Society course.
We encourage you to recommend additional films, readings to be used alongside the films, or tell us about your experience.

*Special thanks to the NASSS community for providing so many suggestions.

Sport Films (Non-fiction):

  • Go Tigers! (2001)
  • Jump! (2007) – Awesome jump rope documentary
  • Rocks with Wings (2002) (dir: Rick Derby)
  • 100% Woman:  the Michelle Dumaresq Story (2004)
  • Golden Gloves (or the Real Million Dollar Babies) (2007)
  • A League of Their Own (the documentary film) (1993)
  • Training Rules (2009) – It concerns the scandal around former Penn State Women’s Basketball Coach, Rene Portland. Maybe available on Hulu.
  • When We Were Kings (1996)
  • Playing Unfair (2002)
  • Chasing October
  • Football Under Cover
  • Pink Ribbons, Inc. (2011) – Samantha King
  • A Hero for Daisy (1999) – a documentary about Title IX and rowing
  • PBS series “American Experience” has an episode on Jesse Owens – you can screen it online.
    Ahead of the Majority – It covers Patsy Mink’s political career and includes a section on her involvement in the politics of Title IX.
  • Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008) - examples of hegemonic masculinity and how the media influences males’ self-images (not just females, as is so commonly discussed).
  • Hoop Dreams (1994) – [can be combined with the chapter by C.L. Cole and Samantha King, “The New Politics of Urban Consumption: Hoop Dreams, Clockers, and America,” in Ralph C. Wilcox, ed., Sporting Dystopias: The Making and Meaning of Urban Sport Cultures, pp. 14, 221-246.]
  • Viva Baseball
  • Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (2004)
  • In Whose Honor
  • Not Just A Game (2010) – Dave Zirin provides a sociological analysis of how sport influences our society, particularly the parallels between the institution of sport and the military.
  • Pursuing the Perfect 10 – This was a CNN documentary that is available on YouTube in several parts. I used it as a review after lessons on youth sports and deviance in sports
    Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvMpy6kEOZM
  • An Enforcer’s Story – This is a documentary style video available in conjunction with a piece that ran in the NY Times about hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard’s death.
    Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/sports/hockey/derek-boogaard-a-boy-learns-to-brawl.html )
  • Murderball (2005) – documentary film about tetraplegic athletes who play wheelchair rugby. It centers on the rivalry between the Canadian and U.S. teams leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games.
  • Junior –documentary that follows a Canadian Hockey League team from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League called Baie-Comeau Drakker
    http://www.nfb.ca/film/Junior_en
  • Head Games (2012) – related to concussion and sport.
  • More Than a Game – Documents the early career of the heralded LeBron James’ high school experiences.
  • FIT: Episodes in the History of he Body (1991). This focuses on the history of the how we understand a ‘fit’ body, including analysis related to race, social class, gender, disability and age.
  • The Journey of the African American Athlete” (Parts 1 and 2)
  • Blood on the Flat Track – documentary on the rat city roller girls
  • Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team
  • Joe Louis – America’s Hero Betrayed
  • Two Days In April – follows four NFL prospects through the process of preparing for and participating in the 2006 NFL Draft
  • 4th and Goal – Tale of six men trying to make it to the NFL
  • Undefeated – Oscar-winning 2011 documentary directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin. The film documents the struggles of a high school football team, the Manassas Tigers of Memphis, as they attempt a winning season after years of losses.
  • Born and Bred – documentary following young latino boxers in LA
  • The Morgan Lacrosse Story (pbs) – This film tells the story of the nation’s first and only college lacrosse team at a historically black institution.
  • Gridiron & Steel – Western Pennsylvania and football
  • On the Shoulders of Giants – Story of the Harlem Rens
  • Bra Boys (2007) – A movie about a particularly hyper-masculine group of male surfers (the Bra Boys) in Sydney, Australia. A good example of a fratriarchal sporting group, and all the problematic aspects associated with such groupings. Can be used in conjunction with the critique from Clifton Evers in the Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/false-prophets-of-surfing-bastardise-our-beaches/2007/03/12/1173548110229.html
  • Dogtown and Z Boys (2001) – The development of skateboarding in Southern California, great for revealing subcultural dynamics.
  • First Descent (2005) – A history of snowboarding and insight into the gender and age dynamics within core action sport groups.
  • This Ain’t California (2012) – In German with English subtitles, but offers a fascinating perspective on the development of skateboarding (and youth counter cultures) in East Berlin during the 1980s.
  • STRONG! – an awesome new documentary on Cheryl Hayworth, Olympic weightlifter. It deals well with questions of athleticism, gender, and normativity. http://strongthefilm.com/
  • Offside (2006) – from Iran. Interesting to look at cross-cultural understandings and expressions of gender. It looks at how gender is used to define spaces of sport: specifically the soccer stadium.
  • Fearless (2012)  – about Sarah Burke and top athletes who risk their life for high performance sport
  • The Legacy of Brendan Burke (2010) – about Brendan Burke, homosexuality, hockey.
  • The Code (2010) – about hockey’s unwritten law of fighting and the men who live by it.
  • The Rise and Fall of Theo Flury – (Part 1, 2008) (Part 2, 2010), about sexual abuse, homosexuality, masculinity in Junior A hockey (and professional hockey)
  • The Other Final – Made by two Dutch filmmakers who were dismayed that the Dutch national team did not make the 2002 World Cup, they arranged to have the then two bottom-ranked (by FIFA), Bhutan and Montserrat,  to play a match.
  • A State of Mind (2004) – on the mass games in N. Korea.
  • Sumo East and West
  • The Game of Their Lives (2002) – by Daniel Gordon on the N. Korean 1966 World Cup Team.
  • Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball – On high school teams competing in Japan’s famous national “Koshien” tournament.
  • Tokyo Olympiad parts – great for considering how Japan sought to represent itself during the 1964 Games.
  • A Normal Life: Chronicle of a Sumo Wrestler (2009)
  • Gaea Girls (2000) – on female wrestlers in Japan.
  • Brighton Bandits (2007) - first ever in-depth documentary about a gay soccer team
    trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvKN3X_RCxY
  • Justin (2008) — about gay footballer Justin Fashanu and a campaign against homophobia
    trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_o1IEhRuiE&list=UUoLTOkSW0_Taj3iL9KTi44w&index=7
  • Algorithm (2012) – gorgeous film about blind chess players in India
    trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHVZD2yrb7k&list=UUoLTOkSW0_Taj3iL9KTi44w&index=5
  • River of Life –about the breast cancer survivor voyageur canoe team  “Paddlers Abreast” competing in the Yukon River Quest wilderness canoe race – 740 kms/460 miles in three days. Available for purchase (about $20 or so) through the NFB of Canada and free here:  http://www.nfb.ca/film/river_of_life/

30 for 30 (ESPN series) – many documentaries that could be useful for teaching. 

Sport Films (Fiction):

  • Friday Night Lights
  • North Dallas Forty
  • Girlfight
  • Eight Men Out
  • The Fighter
  • Invictus
  • Sugar – You can use this to talk about sports migrants, race, and ethnicity
  • Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings
  • Varsity Blues
  • Coach Carter
  • Hurricane Season
  • Bend it Like Beckham
  • Chariots of Fire – discuss sport and early 20th century nationalism

 

 

Environmental Inequality, Class, and Life Chances

great expectations

A few years ago, I was a teaching assistant for an introduction to sociology course that structured every reading and lecture around exploring the idea that social class determines life chances. Reading the TSP special article Environmental Inequalities, by Hollie Nyseth Brehm and David Pellow, reminded me of what a powerful and simple framework that is to introduce new students to the discipline of sociology or discussions about social inequality in general.

In the article, Nyseth Brehm and Pellow tackle the issue of environmental injustice by looking at how low income people, immigrants, people of color, and indigenous communities are much more likely to live near a major environmental hazard. Dismissing the idea that this is an “environmental” problem, they explain that it is instead rooted in broader economic, political, and social inequalities that are imbedded in our social discourses, structures, and institutions. The people who live near these hazardous areas face profound risks: for example, pollution from two coal-fired power plants in Chicago is thought to be responsible for 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks, and 720 asthma attacks each year. Many more environmental hazards like this exist across the country and world.

This article would be a terrific way to introduce students to discussions on inequality, environmental policy, or climate change. But it would also be effective as part of a class that seeks to expand students’ understanding of the relationship between social class and “life chances”—or the odds that an individual will obtain the resources and opportunities necessary for a long and successful life.

There is tremendous evidence that the life chances of the poor in the US suffer in comparison to the wealthier strata of society. Wealthier individuals have increased educational opportunities, income earning potential, and employment prospects—all elements of living a successful life. But the evidence also suggests something more alarming: a host of studies have posited a relationship between class and mortality directly. Put simply, poor people in the US have lower life expectancies than their wealthier compatriots. There are a variety of mechanisms though which this inequality comes about: for instance, poor people may have less access to quality medical care and nutrition, in addition to a higher risk of occupational hazards (e.g. black lung or injuries from heavy machinery). Furthermore, as the article discusses, the poor disproportionately live in close proximity to environmental hazards that threaten their health.  Below are a few examples that you could draw upon to make these points in class.

Class and Life Chances in Disasters

The Titanic is the classic extreme example of the relationship between social inequality and mortality, and it could be used in a class setting to begin to illustrate how gender, race, and aspects of social class impact our lives. It is well known that a passenger’s chance of surviving the Titanic disaster was directly tied to gender and class. Because the ship was divided into 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class cabins, class stratification was exceptionally clear. 62 percent of 1st class passengers survived (97 percent of women and 32 percent of men), versus 43 percent of  2nd class passengers (86 percent of women and 8 percent of men) and 25 percent of 3rd class passengers (49 percent of women and 13 percent of men).  These percentages exclude children, and the source is found here.

Expanding this discussion to Hurricane Katrina and other more recent disasters would further the discussion, guided by the following questions:

  • Assess the statement: Nothing exposes social inequality like disasters. Do you agree? If so, why might this be the case? If not, why not? Can you think of examples of other natural disasters where this statement was accurate?
  • On the Titanic, what were some of the mechanisms that explain the relationship between ship class and mortality? (E.g. proximity of cabins to lifeboats, rumors of physical restraint of 3rd class passengers, social attitudes towards women and children, etc.)
  • During Hurricane Katrina, what mechanisms help explain the relationship between social class and chance of survival? (E.g. construction of houses, access to transportation, etc.)

There are untold other topics in this line of discussion—including on the relationship between social class and incarceration, illness, death in war, and crime (selected readings on these subjects are listed below). At this point it would be useful to bring in Nyseth Brehm and Pellow’s article to emphasize to students that even in a less “extreme” scenario, the relationship between social class and life chances is a defining feature of our social world that must be analyzed seriously.

The following discussion questions might be useful when discussing this article:

  • Assess the statement: Class determines place of residence. Do you agree? If so, why might this be the case? If not, why not?
  • How might a communities’ ability to demand better environmental protections also be mediated by race or class?
  • The article notes that climate change is another example of environmental inequality. How is this the case? What does this mean for certain populations around the world? What are some of the ways that climate change may disproportionately impact certain populations in the future? (e.g. destruction of crops, conflicts over water, desertification, etc.)
  • Can you think of other situations in which class, race, or gender may play a determining role in an individual’s life chances? Mortality? Chance of success in the future?

Supplemental Readings

To deepen the discussion about the relationship between social class and life chances, a variety of subjects and articles might be introduced. Below are several readings to get the discussion going:

On the link between social class and death in war:

Zeitlin, Maurice, Kenneth G Lutterman, and James W Russell. 1973. “Death in Vietnam: Class, Poverty, and the Risks of War.” Politics & Society 3(3):313-28.

Dunne, John Gregory. 1986. “The War that Won’t Go Away.” The New York Review of Books.

On the link between social class and health/life-expectancy:

Antonovsky, Aaron. 1967. “Social class, life expectancy and overall mortality.” The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 45(2):31-73.

Donkin, Angela, Peter Goldblatt, and Kevin Lynch. 2002. “Inequalities in life expectancy by social class, 1972–1999.” Health Statistics Quarterly 15:5-15.

Deaton, Angus. 2003. “Health, inequality, and economic development.” Journal of Economic Literature 41(1):113-58.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2012. “Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the US.” New York Times.

*Marie Berry is a graduate student in the Sociology Department at UCLA. Special thanks to Maurice Zeitlin for the inspiration for this post.

Compassion

FMSC Packing Room - Liberytville, IL
In the most recent episode of Office Hours, Shannon Golden talks with sociologist Natan Sznaider about compassion. This podcast could be shortened (specifically at the front and the back ends) for use in the classroom or as homework. The following questions could also be assigned:

1)   What is compassion, and what is morality?

2)   What does Sznaider say has influenced an increase in compassion, and why is his thesis    surprising?

3)   What types of methods does Sznaider use to better understand what influences compassion?  Why does he say that interviews are inadequate?

Book Review Speed-Dating

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For my class this summer, students are required to do a book review. To ensure they were thinking about the books (and actually reading one), I asked them to bring their books to class one week before the book reviews were due. Then, I set the class up for speed-dating (two lines of desks). Students were given a few minutes to tell their speed-dating partner about their book. Specifically, they were asked to discuss why they chose it, how it relates to the class, what the main arguments were, and one thing they learned or found particularly interesting. After a few minutes, I asked students in one row of desks to move down one, and the discussions started over. We did this a few times so students could hear about a couple of other books and practice talking about theirs (while not having to say the same thing too many times in row), and students said they really appreciated the chance to hear about others’ books and think a bit in class about their own.

 

First Day of Class Activities 2

Teacher
In keeping with the theme Hollie started about what to do on the first day of class, I’ll share two activities that worked well in my first class of Intro to Sociology:

1) I have a small class this summer (23 students), so I had the time this semester to do student introductions. I wanted to use these introductions as a way to get students to start thinking about their social location. After a short lecture on the basics of sociological framework and the importance of examining context, I had students first go around the room and introduce themselves by name. Then, I asked them to add a little “context” to their introductions. Who are they? What experiences have shaped how they see the world? Instructions to the students:

  • ›Introduce yourself!
  • First, tell us your name (what you would like to be called).
  • ›For all subsequent rounds, introduce yourself further by adding context. Tell us something about your context (what has shaped your view of the world):
  • Who you are, your background, your family, your interests, what you like to do, who and what you identify with, your heroes, activities you do or used to do, why you are in college, your goals, places you have worked, etc.

Go as many rounds as you’d like (I did two). If students start to simply name their interests, start asking them how that interest may influence how they see the world to direct their thinking back to their own social location.

 

2) Next, I reviewed the basics what sociologists study. Then, to get students to start working out their own sociological imaginations, I had them spend five minutes jotting down their own sociological questions and then had everyone share at least one of their questions with the class.

Activity: ›Sociologists attempt to answer questions we have about the social world. What are some questions you have about the social world?

In a Word Doc (hooked up to a projector so they could see it), I wrote down all of their questions so  that we could come back to them throughout the semester to see if they had gained the tools to know how to answer them. If they asked questions that weren’t particularly sociological (for example: one student posed a question about renewable energy), I asked them to think about the social dimensions of this problem (e.g., business interests, capitalism, funding for scientific discovery, etc.)