There’s Research On That!” (#TROT) is a blogging project at The Society Pages that presents short summaries of classic and contemporary research relevant to current events as a resource for journalists and the public. While our archives are a great resource for students looking to kick-start a sociological research paper or for readers who want a fresh take on the news for their next cocktail party, the format of these posts also works great for class assignments! For this activity, students write their own TROT posts as an exercise in collecting, evaluating, and summarizing research.

Guidelines:

  1. Browse the “There’s Research On That!” blog to get a sense of how TROT posts are written. They usually start with a summary of a current event, then provide sociological ideas relevant to the matter at the hand. The author highlights one to four key ideas from the research and includes citations for each source with hyperlinks to the authors’ website and the publication information.
  2. Choose a recent news event or pop culture trend to analyze. Ask yourself, “What would sociologists have to say about this that the rest of the media may be missing?” Make a list of a few possible themes to investigate about the topic, such as the impact of social construction, institutions, or networks.
  3. Search for literature on your themes using an online database such as JSTOR, Sociological Abstracts, or Google Scholar. Select three to five pieces that speak to the themes or provide broader information about the topic.

***Start with major journals in the field—American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, or Social Problems—but the search doesn’t end there! Books and publications focusing more narrowly on subfields, such as Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Gender & Society, or Deviant Behavior are always helpful. Also, remember to think broadly; sometimes a general article about the topic can be more helpful than one that fits the news story perfectly.

  1. Evaluate the research. Read the methodology sections of any journal articles, or find reviews of the books published in academic journals. Do you find the conclusion(s) convincing, based on the evidence provided? Is the methodology high quality? Which pieces provide the best takeaways for a general reader? Once you’ve considered the possible sources separately, consider how they will fit together in your post. From your list, pick the best two or three pieces to include in your article.
  2. Write a TROT post in the style of the website. Remember the main components: a short summary of the news, including links to media coverage so the reader can see what’s already been written; key takeaways you identified in the sociological literature; and citations of the research. Be prepared to discuss in class why you picked the sources you did.

TROT is an evolving project quickly becoming an integral part of TSP. Instructors are encouraged to contact the TSP staff (email stewa777@umn.edu) with the best TROT posts from this assignment for possible publication on TSP!

Note: At the time this post was written, The Society Pages’ Discoveries were called The Reading List.

DISC clippedFindings about lifetime earnings, fertility, graduation rates, and gentrification are interesting all on their own, but how do sociologists go about studying these topics? To address this question for my Intro to Sociology class, I began with a 10-min. mini-lecture on “Methods” based on the info in Ch. 2 of Dalton Conley’s You May Ask Yourself textbook. (The students had SQ3Red this chapter for homework.) To kick it off, I reviewed how sociology was different from the other disciplines—our topic from the previous class, and then got into the new material about variables, samples, qualitative and quantitative, methods, etc.

So that the students could develop a fuller sense of the new concepts they learned, I created this methods sheet for the class to practice applying them. First, as an example, we answered the questions from the sheet about the first article in the Reading List Packet together as a class. Students were able to ask questions about the procedure and I could clarify the directions before they tried one on their own.

Then, students were instructed to get into small groups of 2 or 3. Each group was directed to work on answering the questions about a different Reading List article. When all groups had finished, each reported back to the class what the question, findings and methods were.

Why I like this activity:

  • it’s easy to differentiate if you have a heterogeneous class. The Reading List articles vary in difficulty, so you could assign easier articles to groups that struggle and more difficult ones to groups that need a challenge. Alternatively, you could differentiate by interest by letting each group claim which article to begin with.
  • if one group gets done way ahead of the others, they can move on to a different article, so nobody’s stuck waiting around for groups that need more time. If the whole class picks up the skills quickly, you could set a time limit and reward the group that finishes the most articles before time is up.
  • it’s social—at the beginning of the semester, students can get to know one another, and get comfortable working together and sharing answers with the class
  • having groups report back to the whole class provides a low-stakes way for the teacher to correct students’ misunderstandings in a way that benefits the whole class
  • students learn about the breadth of sociological inquiry while practicing their skills of identifying parts of a research article (and—perhaps more importantly—the parts of a research study)

 

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?

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.
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.

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.

Second, students—even psychology students—tend to be relatively confident about their idea of the self in particular. They bring to class the assumption that the self is stable and unified, and that it confronts a world that is similarly stable and structured. According to this assumption, the self is unique, a conglomerate slowly built up over time. A self, they think, is won in a struggle that is occasionally painful but, once gained, is an acting, thinking, feeling, and relatively stable unit. They find Mead’s notion that the self encompasses two phases and is interactive, temporal, socially emergent, and in-process all the time confusing and disorienting.

Third and finally, students tend to begin with the assumption that the self is principally an “I.” When they learn that, for Mead, the self not only consists of two phases but is mostly a “me” and only briefly an “I”—that, as Mead likes to put it, you are only aware of the “I” as it passes into the “me”—their confusion deepens. Even if they get it, they think it is remote from their experience.

Class Activity. TSP’s Cyborgology discusses these issues from time to time, and several posts have mentioned the experience of talking about them in the classroom. I have devised the following exercise to illustrate the distinction and fundamental interplay between the “I” and the “me” in Mead’s notion of the self. Have students take out their phones, iPads, or laptops to take a picture of themselves. I then ask them a series of (admittedly obvious) questions:

Selfie photo by Paško Tomić Flickr cc
Selfie photo by Paško Tomić Flickr cc

“Who is that a picture of?

Intended response: “Me!”

“Who took the picture?

Intended response: “I did!”

“So, what did you just do?”

Intended response: “I took a picture of myself!”

At this point I reiterate their answers, identifying the “I” as the doer of the action, or the active phase of the self (the “who” who took the picture, and in this way acted on or toward oneself); and the “me” as the one (or self) in regard to whom the “I” acted. The selfie represents what others see: students looking at their captured self-images, and their “attitudes” toward their images, or the way they regard their images, illustrates the generalized other.

So far so good. Students see a picture of themselves, and understand that that’s what others see. Everything in Mead starts with this, and students have to get this clearly.  It’s a static idea, and they seem to get it well enough. Sometimes I’m just happy that they get this much! But how to use this as a springboard for further explanation of Mead’s ideas about the self?

What’s hard to grasp is that the I is so fleeting. As soon as there’s a me—an object, the thing that others see—we can reflect on our actions; we can take the attitude of the other toward ourselves.  Now we can construct and rehearse lines of action with the other in mind. The I—the phase of the self that improvises and can act creatively and spontaneously—comes into play, however fleetingly.

I point out here that one only becomes conscious of the I as it passes into memory—that is, as it becomes a “me.” I explain that the capacity to act on or toward oneself exhibits reflective intelligence or reflexiveness more generally.

Image by Mike Licht via Flickr CC.
Image by Mike Licht via Flickr CC.

Driving home the contrast. Then you have to drive home the contrast between the I as the active, indeterminate self and the me as the internalized attitudes of the generalized other. I suggest trying the following: Tell the class, “Now choose someone else in the room, exchange cellphones with them, and ask them for their password.”  Then pause, and take a quick note of what’s happening. I’m gambling that they don’t immediately do it. That’s a pretty safe assumption. The request thrusts them unexpectedly into an uneasy, conflictual situation in which they are forced to think about the expectations of the generalized other and to decide on a response. Do they protest? Ignore my command? Obey? Comply, with the plan of changing their passwords immediately afterwards? Look for signs of what everyone else is going to do?  (That, too, is a pretty safe assumption.) After a few seconds say, “Just kidding!”  Then ask what their immediate reaction was to the request. Try to lead them into exploring the conflict that they just found themselves in.  The point of inventing a conflict is to highlight the improvisational/indeterminate nature of the “I.” This exercise forces them to negotiate conflicting demands, and consider alternative lines of conduct based on the nature of the situation and the expectations it implies. How they respond is the “I” right there.

What’s the next step?  There are surely many more ways to use selfies to pursue the deeper issues here, ways in which you can get students to catch themselves in the act of acting on themselves, taking the attitude of the other to construct lines of action based on the situations at hand. Any ideas?

Recommended Readings

Mead, G. H., & Morris, C. W. (1967). Mind, Self & Society from the Stand-point of a Social Behaviorist [by] George H. Mead; Edited, with Introd., by Charles W. Morris. University of Chicago Press.

A good discussion of Mead on the “I” and the “Me” can be found in the “Mead” entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

And another sociologist who has discussed selfies over at wwnorton/soc.

 

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?
https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/10/23/heteronormativity-in-halloween-costumes/

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

6) How things have changed? Are girls dressed up “sexier”?
https://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
https://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