Framing and Counter-framing

Dr. Abigail C. Saguy, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at UCLA, recently stopped by Office Hours to talk about her new book What’s Wrong with Fat?  

“The only people who see the whole picture,' he murmured, 'are the ones who step out of the frame.” - Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her FeetThis a a great podcast to assign to your students. It is not only a fascinating topic, but Dr. Saguy does a excellent job of explaining what a “frame” is how sociologists study framing strategies.

This podcast would be an excellent addition to a course or section on gender, medical sociology or the sociology of bodies. But, it would also work very well in a research methods or media course as an introduction to framing and counter-framing.

I suggest using this podcast as an example illustrating how sociologists study framing and then have students conduct a mini-research project of their own and find another social issue with competing frames. Use the questions below to guide your students in understanding how to study framing: 

PART ONE: Listen to the podcast and answer the following questions

  1. Define “framing” in your own words. Why does framing matter?
  2. What does it mean the “denaturalize” a frame?
  3. Using the abortion issue as a example of social movement framing, how do different framing strategies radically change how the issue could be understood by observers?
  4. List and describe all the ways that fatness is framed and counter-framed, according to Dr. Saguy.
  5. Dr. Saguy points out that how our society chooses to understand fatness will determine our responses to it. Choose one frame described by Dr. Saguy and explain what the social consequences of that frame might be.

PART TWO: Apply what you have learned and conduct your own framing analysis

  1. Now, use what you have learned about framing to find another example of a social issue with competing frames.
  2. Describe the social issue and at least two competing frames that you have observed.
  3. What are the goals of each framing strategy? How do those using this frame want you to understand this issue?
  4. For each competing frame, describe the logical response to the social issue that in encouraged by that frame. In other words, what are the  logical responses and potential social consequences of each frame?

 

 

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?

Infantilization and Fantasy Football

Below is a guest post by Zachary Miner, a Sociology PhD student at SUNY Albany.  Zachary’s dissertation addresses stigma and firearms ownership cultures in the United States, but he enjoys researching a variety of other topics including gender/sexualities, work, and addiction.  In the post, he suggests an activity which uses examples from students’ everyday lives to explore gender stereotyping.
When presenting a topic in class, I find that it enhances students’ interest and participation levels if they see the relevance of that topic to their own lives. For that reason, I try to incorporate examples with which students are likely to be familiar, and which will cause them to engage more with the lesson. This is certainly good practice at all times, but it is especially important when discussing something that students may have deeply-held, or “common-sense,” beliefs about, such as gender. Students may find it unconvincing, for example, if you simply state as fact that adult women are often infantilized and marginalized when they try to enter realms traditionally dominated by men. However, if you can provide an example that they’re familiar with, and show them how to critically examine that example, it will help lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the concept.

The suggested activity to distribute to students is as follows:

Find one or more instances in your daily life where adult women are marginalized or infantilized (treated as if they are a child). Examples could include news stories, photographs, videos, websites, written accounts, etc. Once you’ve found your example, write a brief description/summary of the aspects you’ve identified as marginalizing or infantilizing, and then a 1-2 page reflection on why you think this behavior is taking place. Be sure to write in detail about the item you’ve chosen, and include references to relevant material from class (textbook, articles, etc.). Bring your item, and your reflection paper, to class and be prepared to discuss.


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After giving out the assignment, I recommend working through an example in-class to get students thinking critically. Here’s one suggestion:

Ask the students if anyone in the class plays fantasy football (this works especially well in the Fall semester!). Inquire if one of the people who has raised their hand would be willing to explain to the class how the game works. Then, bring up the Fox
Sports fantasy football website dedicated to tracking a fantasy football league called “The Fox Sports Girls.”

After reviewing the site, begin a class discussion, focusing on some of the following points:

  • Ask students to identify examples of infantilization/marginalization within the page.
    • Examples:
      • Calling it “Girls Fantasy Draft” sets up an infantilizing tone from the start (“girls,” not “women”)
      • The double-entendre inviting viewers to enter a contest to compete with the Fox Sports Girls (“Want to play in their league?”) evokes the possibility of dating the women seen in the photographs (i.e. – “she’s out of my league”)
      •  The cutesy names for many of the teams (“Sunshine Sweeties,” “If The Shoe Fitz,” “Motor City Kitties,” and “The Cheesehead Cuties”)
  • Who is the target audience for this portion of the site, men or women? How do we know?
  • Highlight how the photographs of the women, with smiling faces, are prominently displayed at the top of the page. Explain how reducing women to just their bodies is common in our culture to devalue the contributions of women – see a sports-related example of this here. Compare this page to the rest of the site.
  • Ask students to explain why the male writers and commentators of Fox Sports are not portrayed as smiling faces alone. Ask students to conjecture why these women’s photographs are all that viewers can see, with no credentials or accomplishments listed, much less any advice about fantasy football.
  • Why is this “girls page” separate from the rest of the site?
  • Ask why there needs to be a gender binary in fantasy football at all. Why, in an activity with no physical component whatsoever, does Fox Sports re-create a gender binary based on physicality (i.e. – women and men play sports separately because women tend to be smaller/lighter)?
  • Also, remind students to be wary of taking “natural” differences too far. You might consider showing this clip from “Mythbusters”  – which suggests that at least some of the differences between the sports performance of men and women is actually cultural, and not biological.
  • Ask students to explain why the network believed it would be more appealing to feature a fantasy football team of only women than a Fox Sports team with both male and female staffers. Have students consider why the selling point of this team is that it is populated by women? Remind students that when something is seen as a novelty, or an aberration, it’s easier to dismiss it, or treat it less seriously, than if it is presented as the norm.


Fantasy Football Draft White Background
If you want to give students additional material to consider, or if you want to show that Fox Sports isn’t the only offender, you might also give students this article: “Ladies, fantasy football is much easier than you think,” by Alex Flanagan. In this article – which is intended to show that women can be good at fantasy football too – Flanagan unfortunately ends up reinforcing many stereotypes of femininity (beginning with the title of the article which implies that women don’t understand fantasy football). She describes the ups and downs of being involved in an all-women’s fantasy football league where the competitors initially rank their choices based on the physical attractiveness of the available players, they report viewing the team as an “outlet where you can be bitchy and competitive without hurting anyone’s feelings,” and where the prize at the end of the season is a purse

  • Have students discuss whether this article is a net positive or a net negative for women who play fantasy football.
    • Is it a dignifying account of women breaking stereotypes, or are the descriptions in the article continuing the marginalization of female fantasy football players?
  •  Ask students to consider the difference between “bitchiness” (in this all-female league) and “trash talk” (in an all-male league).
    • Why is this an expected part of the male fantasy football experience, but takes on a negative connotation when in a female league?
    • Explore how social norms of female politeness persist throughout society and limit the acceptable range of female emotions and behaviors.

You might also show this video “What is Yahoo! Fantasy Football?”, in which sports reporter Melanie Collins gives a mostly-neutral overview of what fantasy football is about, until the closing of the video where she acknowledges that skill does not always equal success, noting that, “Heck, even my Aunt Linda won last year!”

  • Ask students to consider whether the statement would still make sense if she had substituted “Uncle Jon” for “Aunt Linda.” Then explore with students why it reads as humorous to be beaten in a fantasy sports game by your aunt, but not by your uncle.
  • Ask students why a female reporter was chosen for this spot. Who are the target audiences? Would those audiences be more comfortable with a woman explaining fantasy football to them than a man?

 

The exercise described above can easily lead into a larger discussion of gender in sports. This is a fertile area for debate including the topics of how  women’s sports as a whole are seen as less exciting (and less marketable) than men’s sports, female competitors typically get paid less than men, and even female employees are largely relegated to secondary status (“sideline reporter” rather than “commentator,” for example). It could also offer an opportunity to explore the variety of ways in which women’s participation in traditionally male domains is de-legitimized.

The goal of this type of exercise is to get students thinking critically about something they’re familiar with, and considering what gendered messages exist within various aspects of their lives. Ideally, these kinds of exercises will help them realize that gender isn’t something they hear about for three hours a week in the classroom, or only read about in books, but rather is something they can see happening all around them.

 

 

 

FOOD, INC Film Guide

I use documentaries as a teaching tool very often in my classes. Students love them, and if you choose the films well, they love you too. To keep students awake and engaged, I always create a film guide that they fill out as they watch the film. Of course, showing the whole film would be preferable, but most of us are working with short class periods, so I’ve cut each film to an hour or less.

Here’s the first of many video guides I’ll share to accompany documentary films to watch in Sociology classes:

Film: FOOD, INC. 

Course: I showed this in Intro to Sociology. Would also work well in any course or section on Food, the Environment, or Capitalism.

Selections: Beginning to 27:30, 35:45 to 58:45, 1:25 to 1:29

Film Guide: (Food Inc Video Guide)

[Have students answer these questions as they watch the film in class and then give them a few minutes after the film to finish:

  1. Why are the products on the shelves in the supermarket so misleading? (give a few examples)
  2. Why and how did fast food restaurants change the way we produce food? (the film gives several reasons)
  3. How has the practice of farming changed in the new food industry? (the film gives several reasons)
  4. Why is corn in so much of our food today?
  5. Why, despite the advances in technology, do we still see so many cases of food poisoning in industrial food?
  6. In the 1970s, there were thousands of slaughterhouses in the United States. Today, we have _________ slaughterhouses that process the majority of the beef that is sold in the United States.
  7. Why is it that unhealthy food is less expensive than healthy food (good calories vs. bad calories)?
  8. 1 in _____ Americans born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes. Among minorities, the rate will be 1 in ______.
  9. How has the meatpacking industry changed over the last 100 years?
  10. How is the food industry connected to undocumented immigration?
  11. What policy changes would address the problems addressed in this film?

 

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.

 

Documentaries on Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Media

Some documentary suggestions for courses on Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Media courtesy of the SWS listserv. Thanks Kyle for sharing this with Teaching TSP!

 Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Media

Dreamworlds 3

Miss Representation

Reel Bad Arabs

This Film is Not Yet Rated

Reel Injun

Game Over:  Gender, Race, and Violence in Video Games

Wrestling with Manhood

The Codes of Gender

Mickey Mouse Monopoly

Ethnic Notions

Further off the Straight and Narrow

Tough Guise

The Celluloid Closet

The Bronze Screen

Beyond Beats and Rhymes

Killing us Softly IV

In-Class Paper Topic Brainstorming

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If you require your students to write a paper, you know that one of the toughest things for students is narrowing a broad paper topic to one that is sufficient for a course paper.  This quick group activity helps students begin to refine their ideas with some help from their classmates.

  • Have students take out a piece of paper and write their potential paper topic in the center.  (Tell them to write in small handwriting!)  Tell them it’s normal for students, as well as professors, to start out with broad paper ideas that need to be narrowed.
  • Then, have students form groups of 3-4.  Each student should pass her/his piece of paper to the left (or right!), and all students should spend 1-2 minutes writing what comes to mind when they see their classmates’ paper topics.  Show them a picture like the one above (perhaps with a slightly more related topic!), and explain that they are creating brainstorming webs.
  • Students should continue to pass their papers around until everyone in the group has commented on each other’s paper ideas.
  • Then, give students a moment to look at their webs.  If you want to spend extra time on the activity, you can also ask them to pair up with someone from their group, talk through their webs, and talk through any ideas that the activity spurred in their minds.

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.)

 

Evil Men

New Books in Sociology is an untapped resource for the classroom.  In these podcasts, the hosts spend about an hour talking with the author of a new sociological book.  While they are all interesting, a recent podcast caught my (aspiring genocide scholar) eye.  Evil Men, by James Dawes, draws on firsthand accounts of convicted war criminals.  This podcast would make a fantastic assignment in a course covering genocide, human rights, international law, or criminology.  Below are a few questions that could accompany the podcast.

  1. Who did Dawes choose to interview, and why?
  2. Why were interviews an appropriate research method for this project?
  3. Were people willing to talk with Dawes?  Why do you think this was the case?
  4. What did Dawes learn about why these “evil men” committed the crimes they did?
  5. What do his findings tell us about why people commit war crimes?  Based on what you have heard, do you find anything problematic about drawing scientific conclusions from his book?

This podcast could also be paired with several other activities on Teaching TSP, such as these activities about the Milgram experiment and this activity about power.