Tag Archives: politics

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.

Racial Stereotypes, Scapegoating, and the Economic Crisis

Office Hours sat down with  Catherine Squires to discuss her September 2012 article in American QuarterlyColoring in the Bubble: Perspectives from Black-Oriented Media on the (Latest) Economic Disaster. This is a great podcast to keep on hand for use in any class on race relations or any discussion on the recent economic crisis.

Letters
In this podcast, Squires explains how people of color were scapegoated by the mainstream media in responding to the sub prime mortgage crisis. Squires then explores how three publications that are targeted to African Americans or people of color more generally responded to this crisis. The podcast is a great discussion of  how neoliberalism and notions of “post-racialism” allow for stereotypes of people of color to remain unexamined and allow people of color to be scapegoated for social problems, even in this case of obvious fraud by lending companies.

We recommend the following discussion questions and activity to get students engaged with this topic:

1. How does Squires define “neoliberalism”? Were you familiar with this political philosophy before listening to this interview? Have you recognized the elements of neoliberalism in political discussions recently?

2. How does Squires define “post-racialism”? Were you familiar with this ideology before listening to this interview? Have you seen this ideology expressed by politicians? by your family and friends?

3. In what ways did Squires find that people of color were blamed for the sub prime crisis?

4. According to Squires, how did the ideologies of neoliberalism and post-racialism lend support to the blaming of people of color (instead of focusing on racist practices by the lending companies)?

5. Take a look at the three news outlets that Squires examines in this paper: Black EnterpriseThe Root, and Colorlines.  Take a few minutes to look over each site. How do they seem similar and different? According to Squires, how did each of the news sources respond differently to the economic crisis?

6. Is Squires optimistic that these news sources created by and for people of color have the ability to challenge dominant narratives about people of color? Why or why not?

Whiteness, Sport, and NASCAR Nation

As we all scramble to wrap up syllabus planning for the Spring semester, I wanted to share a great podcast I’m adding to mine!

Last week, Office Hours sat down with Joshua I. Newman and Michael Giardina to talk about their recent book Sport, Spectacle, and NASCAR Nation: Consumption and the Cultural Politics of Neoliberalism. Their conversation covered topics including the whiteness of stock car racing, religion and rebellion at the race track, and the production and consumption of Southern identity. 

I’m using this for an American Race Relations class, but it would also work great in a Methods course, as the authors talk about the ethics of conducting ethnographic research with groups of people who are very different from themselves.

The following are some questions to have them answer at home or to get the discussion started in class:

1. Which political party has incorporated NASCAR and NASCAR fans into their campaign strategy? How do the author explain this tactical choice? What do you think about this campaign strategy?

2. The authors point out that NASCAR has attempted to increase the diversity of its fan base. According to the authors’ research, how have some fans responded to this move?

3. What does it mean to “perform whiteness” and what are a few examples given by the authors? Why, according to the authors was this type of performance perhaps more prevalent at racetracks not located in the South?

4. Describe the methods used in this research. Why do the authors stress that this method was essential to address their research questions? Why was this method also challenging for the authors? Explain.

5. What applications might this research have for today’s political climate? How might NASCAR nation have changed under an Obama presidency versus a Bush presidency?

 

Presidential Debates as a Teaching Tool

Today we have a guest post from our fellow TSP board member, Kyle Green. Kyle is teaching Sociological Research Methods and wanted to share this activity that he is having his students complete while watching the presidential debates. Thanks Kyle!

I believe that one of the most important skills that a sociology major learns is how to recognize a good/bad argument, how to recognize when someone is using the right/wrong data to support their view, and to think about how the effectiveness of different types of argument varies by both topic and situation.

The presidential and vice-presidential debates present a great opportunity to put these skills into use. And it gets the students to think critically about politics, which is never a bad thing.

I require that the students in my research methods class watch any two of the four debates. They are asked to take detailed notes about the types of arguments the participants on each side made and the data they used to support their claims. The notes should also include:

  •  Self-reflection (How closely do they follow politics? Are they a strong supporter of a particular political party or involved in particular issues? Did watching the debate change their view?)
  • What arguments did they find the most or least convincing? Why?
  • What type of information was the most or least effective in this format?
  • How did the format of the debates affect the arguments used and supporting information presented?
  • Did you spot any of the common research errors or logical fallacies we discussed in class?

I have the students bring their notes to the first class after the final debate. I then divide them into groups of three where they have a chance to discuss their observations before have a larger class discussion about the lessons we learned.

Polling

It's survey season

The roundtable “Polling, Politics, and the Populace” is a great overview of the insights sociologists can provide to polling.  While there are several aspects you could discuss the classroom, one of the key points highlights the difficulty of asking questions.  To illustrate this, students could create a few survey questions in class after reading the roundtable.

Have the entire class brainstorm a topic and audience for a fictitious survey.  Then, have students break into groups.  Each group should develop three questions about the topic.  After 10 minutes, ask each group to write their questions on the board.  Then, discuss the questions as a class.  Are they closed or open-ended (you could also specify this in the directions so all are closed-ended), and why might this matter?  What do they measure?  How are they different?  Are there ambiguous words, jargon, or other confusing aspects?  Would there be difficulties with in-person polling?  Etc.

Political Humor on Office Hours

Image by karen horton via flickr.com

I posted last month about The Society Pages’ Roundtable entitled Laughter and the Political Landscape  but realized I didn’t link to the Office Hours interview with Heather LaMarre. The interview is a great addition to the Roundtable because it addresses two main points that I think are crucial for using this in the classroom:

1. that political humor is not made or consumed exclusively by political liberals (11:15), and

2. she asks what effect this type of political humor may have on the way young people participate in politics? (17:52)

Image by david_shankbone via flickr.com

“The big question is going to be whether people under 30, since they’ve sort of grown up in this era of political satire and entertainment…are themselves as a generation developing a sense of humor about politics that’s good for democracy or a disgust about politics that’s bad for democracy? And that remains to be seen.”

What do your students think??

Sports and Politics

The Society Pages’ first White Paper, published earlier this month, focuses on the intersections of politics and sport. White Papers are in-depth explorations of relevant topics in the social sciences and  will be an ongoing part of The Society Pages. We recommend using this White Paper, “Politics and Sports: Strange, Secret Bedfellows” by Kyle Green and Doug Hartmann, in your classroom as a great overview of the politics of sports…and the sport of politics. Score

This easy-to-read and informative paper explores many topics relevant to your students. Here are a few:

  • Do sports play a role in maintaining racial stereotypes, in particular the athletic prowess and intellectual deficiency of black men?
  • Similarly, how do gendered stereotypes of ability and interest in sports get reproduced? And how can such stereotypes be understood damaging for women?
  • Should sports be understood as a site where boys learn how to “perform” a hegemonic brand of dominant and physical manhood?
  • Are sports the “opiate of the masses”—something mindless to occupy the working class’s time and energy, which might otherwise be invested in creating drastic political change?
  • How can we understand the infusion of sports language and metaphors in politics? Why do politicians use such language and what are the possible repercussions of this type of language?
  • How should we understand the display of anthems, flags, and military personnel (or fighter jets) at sporting events of all kinds (e.g. standing for the national anthem)?
  • Should tax dollars be used to fund professional sports stadiums? How has this taken-for-granted link between state government and for-profit sports teams been formed?

 

Political Satire & Political Engagement

The Society Pages’ second Roundtable, Laughter and the Political Landscape, asked media and communication scholars to reflect on political humor and satire. The Roundtable would be a great resource in any class or section on media and politics. I may be outing myself here as a complete addict of The Daily Show, but how can you not use The Daily Show for a section on political humor?!

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are very lefty (even though Stephen Colbert’s bit is as a staunch conservative), but wherever your students are politically, these shows serve as a great example of using satire in a surface way (focusing on a politician’s physical characteristics, for example), as well as a tool to criticize their character and politics.

The Roundtable poses the question of how political humor works to engage young people in politics. You could use the Roundtable discussion to get a conversation going in your class about how students understand and digest political humor as well as their perceptions of its potential for encouraging political engagement.

Teaching OWS (Guest Post)

This blog post, written by Lyndi Hewitt, originally appeared on the Mobilizing Ideas blog and appears here with the author and institute’s permission. We liked it so much we just had to share! 

 

For those of us prescient enough (wink) to plan a social movements course for this semester, it’s been quite a ride.  I’ve been teaching a first year seminar on global justice movements and, like many other instructors, altered my carefully planned syllabus in response to the unexpected wave of activism that emerged before our very eyes.

As the students in the course simultaneously processed core social movements scholarship and news coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I was particularly struck by the fact that many students had very specific and often inaccurate ideas about who the protesters were (and what it cost them to be there) even after extensive, theoretically informed class discussion and news analysis.  So I decided to invite the students to join me for a visit to Zuccotti Park.  Newly equipped with social movements concepts, along with requisite iPhones and video cameras, the students and I ventured into the park on a chilly Saturday evening in early November.  We observed a general assembly, discussed the various issues and frames represented among the signs, and interviewed protesters about their views.  Despite the fact that most of the students were initially skeptical of Occupy Wall Street, they exhibited both intellectual curiosity and great respect for the protesters.  One especially enthusiastic student prepared a short video documenting the protesters’ responses to his questions (which I share with his permission):

The two gentlemen featured prominently, both veterans, had a significant impact on the students. Their remarks around 5:50 encapsulate the disruption of students’ pre-existing assumptions: “I’m tremendously excited by what I see here. These people are extremely sophisticated people. They’re very intelligent people. They’re not bums. Don’t believe the media that we have nothing better to do, okay. We would like to be productive members of society. We were at one time and we would like to be again. We have a lot to contribute.”

Although we’d been discussing the Occupy Wall Street protests and applying social movement theories in the classroom for weeks, the experience of being in the park, seeing the encampment alongside the police, and talking with protesters proved to be a far richer learning opportunity for students. It blew the students’ minds that OWS protesters could be older, hard working, and patriotic; moreover, hearing movement grievances articulated face-to-face catalyzed a depth of understanding that wasn’t achievable simply through reading and watching video clips about those same grievances. Interestingly, our debriefing after the field trip revealed that over half the students had changed their opinions of the protesters as well as the legitimacy of the movement as a whole (all, it turned out, from an unfavorable to a more favorable opinion).

Seeing the OWS protesters through the eyes of my students reminded me how powerful a teacher experience is, and that more time spent in the midst of the action would be valuable for most of us.