This article is reprinted, with author and publication permission, from September/October 2022 issue of The Criminologist

This article is cross-posted on The Society Pages’ teaching page. We post it here because of its relevance for involving students in documenting and understanding suffering.


Exhibit titled, “Hell in Georgia: Convict Leasing,” curated by students in Sarah Shannon’s Criminal Punishment & Society course at the University of Georgia in spring 2022. Archival materials from the University of Georgia’s Special Collections Libraries.

I wasn’t sure anyone would show up. My students had worked for six weeks to prepare a pop-up exhibit event showcasing their archival research projects on Georgia’s carceral history. In groups of four or five, my 44 students in Criminal Punishment & Society at the University of Georgia (UGA) prepared eight exhibits that told multi-layered stories of incarceration, convict leasing, probation/parole, fines and fees, boot camps, and life on death row spanning the late 19th to the early 21st centuries. The students worked in collaboration with university archivists to cull through multiple collections housed at the UGA Special Collections Library. They located and interpreted archival documents and objects, including media, and carefully crafted overview and caption texts to help visitors engage with big questions about how and why people have been punished by Georgia’s carceral state. During our final exam period for spring semester 2022 we set up our tables, put out our signage in the hallway of the UGA Special Collections Library, and crossed our fingers that at least some of the friends, colleagues, and community members we’d invited would come.

Exhibit titled, “The Horror and Humanity on Death Row,” curated by students in Sarah Shannon’s Criminal Punishment & Society course at the University of Georgia in spring 2022. Archival materials from the University of Georgia’s Special Collections Libraries

And they did. About 30 minutes into our event I scanned the room and smiled. I saw my students interacting enthusiastically with diverse members of our university and local communities. Guests included faculty and students, of course, but also the former head of our local public defender’s office, our county’s current district attorney, a former probation officer from New York, a friend of mine who spend 25 years locked up in Georgia prisons, and many others, including local activists involved in bail reform efforts and death penalty abolition. One attendee was delighted to see that an exhibit featured a letter he’d written decades ago as part of criminal justice reform efforts in southwest Georgia. My students left their final exam period feeling accomplished and wowed by the conversations they’d had about their work and guests’ real-world experience with their topics. All told, it was one of the most fulfilling teaching experiences of my career. In this article, I describe and reflect on my initial experiences implementing archives-based learning in undergraduate courses focused on criminal justice topics.

What is archives-based learning?

I designed this course after participating in UGA’s Special Collections Library Faculty Fellows Program that provides instructors with supported exploration of archives-based learning as a high impact learning practice. As a fellow, I collaborated with UGA archivists with the aim of including an archives-focused approach to the pedagogy and course design of a new or existing course. The program builds on the work of TeachArchives.org, a resource born of a three-year partnership between archivists and faculty in Brooklyn, New York to pioneer an approach to teaching in the archives. There are many models for incorporating archival materials into the classroom, including one-time encounters and semester-long engagement. Teaching with the archives includes directed, hands-on activities based on specific learning objectives, thoughtful selection of documents/objects, and small group activities. It is considered a high-impact educational practice because it teaches research skills, creates a common intellectual experience, and requires collaboration.

My approach to archives-based learning in two courses

So far, I’ve implemented archives-based learning in two of my courses: Juvenile Delinquency and Criminal Punishment and Society. Both are upper-division undergraduate elective courses, largely comprised of sociology and criminal justice majors. In Juvenile Delinquency, we visited the Special Collections Library twice during the semester, once near the beginning of the term and once later on. In the first encounter, students were assigned to groups and examined sets of archival documents and media clips that relate to the early juvenile court in Georgia from 1908 to the 1950s. Example documents included one of 100 original copies of a 1908 bill to establish juvenile courts in Georgia and a 1939 report describing subsequent reforms. I drew media clips largely from newsreel footage from the 1950s, including judges discussing juvenile court practices, youth sharing their experiences in juvenile training schools, and parents encouraging more community involvement in preventing delinquency. For the second visit, I curated several sets of documents and media clips from the “get tough” era of the 1980s and 1990s. Topics included boot camps touted by Georgia Governor Zell Miller in the 1990s, a movement to raise the age for the death penalty in Georgia to 18, and the 1998 settlement agreement between the state of Georgia and the Department of Justice to address suboptimal conditions in Georgia’s Youth Development Centers. Example media clips for the second visit included a segment of a documentary on boot camps and a two-part investigation by an Atlanta news station about Youth Development Centers. To assess students’ learning, I assigned reflection essays following each encounter that prompted students to articulate connections between the archival materials they worked with and course content (e.g., readings, class discussions, etc.). For Criminal Punishment and Society I used a much more intensive model. For the final six weeks of the semester, I moved all class meetings to the UGA Special Collections Library. I curated eight sets of archival documents, objects, and media clips that related to Georgia’s carceral history from the late 19th to early 21st century. Students were assigned to groups of four or five to work together on creating a pop-up exhibit. Unlike the two-encounter model I used for Juvenile Delinquency, students were required to search for additional archival materials beyond those that I provided. Students were guided by archivists in searching the archives as well writing captions and overview text for their exhibits. To chronicle and reflect on their learning throughout the project, students were responsible for writing blog posts describing their work as it unfolded over the six weeks. Their efforts culminated in the popup exhibit event that I described in the introduction to this article. Regardless of the model, implementing archives-based learning requires a great deal of preparatory work. From my experience, the process of locating, evaluating, and selecting archival materials for each course required many hours in the archives reading room. I enjoyed the research process a great deal, yet in both cases it took more time that I had anticipated. Of course, now that I’ve done this work once it will be far easier to implement future iterations of these courses with little additional time on the front-end. It’s also important to prepare students for encountering difficult language and topics in archival materials, especially in courses related to crime and criminal justice. For example, students in my courses regularly grappled with offensive language pertaining to race and sexual identity. I not only gave “trigger warnings,” but also provided space for students to take breaks or to discuss their reactions to offensive material in class, individually with me or one of the archivists, and in their writing, depending on how they felt most comfortable.

Impact on student learning and community engagement

Themes from my students’ reflection essays in both courses mirror findings from evaluations of the TeachingArchives.org project: working hands-on with the archives can be “revelatory,” working in small groups generates camaraderie, and intensive interaction with archival materials makes course content more relevant. Students in my courses remarked on how the visceral experience of touching archival objects and documents, as well as hearing and seeing first-hand accounts in archival media clips, brought course concepts to life for them in powerful ways. Students expressed that working with primary sources allowed them to apply course material to the real life events and people that generated the documents, objects, and clips they handled. Students also indicated that engaging with archival materials helped them understand and contemplate the historical context of our present moment more fully, especially in comprehending how policies related to criminal punishment and juvenile justice are developed, implemented, critiqued, and experienced by real people over time. Most notably, students in my Criminal Punishment and Society course indicated that working so intensively in small groups to create their exhibits helped them appreciate the value of group work for the first time. More than one student remarked that this course was the best group project experience they have had in college. Multiple students expressed that they made real friendships in their groups; for some this was the first time they had made friends through a college course. Many students stated that the small group work helped them consider others’ points of view on the same material and appreciate the benefits of learning with and from their peers.

Closing thoughts

My experiences in implementing archives-based learning have been fulfilling and I highly recommend this approach. It is timeintensive on the front-end, but there are a variety of formats that can fit just about any course, from one-time events to full semester engagement. TeachArchives.org is a wonderful resource with example exercises that can be adapted. Students have overwhelmingly endorsed it as a highly impactful learning experience. And, as our public pop-up exhibit event showed, archives-based learning can engage the broader campus and community in vital conversations about our shared past, present, and possibilities for change.


About the Author

Sarah Shannon’s research focuses on systems of criminal punishment and their effects on social life. Her interdisciplinary research has been published in top journals in several fields including sociology, criminology, public health, social work, and geography.

Sarah is also an award-winning teacher, having received recognition for excellence in undergraduate instruction, research mentoring, creative teaching, and service-learning. She proudly facilitates UGA’s first-ever Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program course in partnership with the Clarke County Jail.

As a publicly engaged scholar, Sarah’s research has been cited in several high profile media outlets including The New York TimesThe Economist,  and the Washington Post. Prior to her graduate work, Sarah worked in the non-profit sector. As a result, she cares about doing research that matters for academics, policy makers, and ordinary citizens.

Four green glass bottles dripping with condensation. Image used under CC0.

This week The New York Times covered new research from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that shows there was a 25% increase in alcohol-related deaths between 2019 and 2020.

The new research, published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association last Friday used death certificates to identify all deaths for which alcohol was a primary or contributing cause.

They quote Aaron White, the lead researcher, who says that the sharp increase in deaths may be due to people with substance abuse disorder relapsing on account of pandemic-related stress. At the same time as stress and the risk of relapse increased, the pandemic also decreased access to rehabilitative and support services, putting peoples lives at risk.

To put this increase in perspective: the report shows that more people under sixty-five died from alcohol use in 2020 than from covid-19.

The increase in alcohol-related deaths in 2020 is part of a longer trend of alcohol use increasing among adults over the past fifteen years.

 

Image: An image of white hands shuffling money, with a black background. Image via pixabay, Pixabay License. Over 50 per cent of working Americans continue to be dissatisfied with their ‘unjust’ incomes. They say it isn’t sufficient to meet their family expenses.

Scott Schieman, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.


There has been endless chatter about the Great [insert pandemic-related work trend here].

Resignation. Renegotiation. Reshuffle.

Regardless of the descriptor used, employees in the United States are purportedly re-evaluating the role of work in their lives. While some of this is related to deeper existential questions — like “What am I doing with my life?” or “Is this really how I want to be spending most of my waking hours?” — there might be a much simpler and more practical explanation for the take-this-job-and-reinvent-it wave.

A classic quote from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire captures it well. Sports agent Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise) has been fired and as he embarks to become an independent agent he desperately tries to retain one of his clients, football star Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.).

Tidwell shouts his demands: “Show me the money!” He adds: “I have a family to support, Jerry!”

Earning enough to make ends meet

Given what Americans say about their earnings, you’d think many would be bellowing like Tidwell. From Jan. 19 to Feb. 2, 2022, my research assistant and I partnered with Angus Reid Global to field a national survey of 2,000 working Americans. We asked: Do you feel that the income from your job alone is enough to meet your family’s usual monthly expenses and bills?

An astonishing 54.8 percent said “no.”

Image: money, coins, and a calculator in a pile. A tiny shopping cart in the background on its side. Image via flickr, CC BY 2.0. Over the past two decades, more than half of surveyed American workers weren’t able to make ends meet with their job earnings alone.

Considering the ominous news about inflation lately, we figured that this unfavourable perception has spiked from previous years. But looking back through two decades of U.S. data from the General Social Survey (GSS) — a highly reputable national survey of Americans — we were surprised by how prevalent and stable the “no” responses have been.

In 2018, the last time the GSS asked this question, 50.8 percent of American workers reported that the income from their job was not enough to make ends meet. And the percentage was even higher in previous years: 52.9 in 2014; 53.4 in 2006 and 55.9 in 2002. The highest on record — 58.2 per cent — occurred in 2010 at the tail end of the Great Recession.

How fair is what you earn?

But “show me the money” isn’t only about having enough for life’s necessities. It’s also about the sense of fairness — what scholars refer to as distributive justice. In our survey, we asked: How fair is what you earn on your job in comparison to others doing the same type of work you do?

While 37.9 per cent feel they are paid appropriately, 52.7 per cent feel they are paid less than they deserve. On this indicator, the shift is substantial. Between 2002 and 2018, 40.6 per cent on average have described their pay as being somewhat less or much less than they deserve, with 2010 again being the outlier at 46.2 percent.

We need to earn enough to live, and the amount should be just. But there’s another element of pay that reflects something deeper. A fundamental human motive: status. Justifying his “show me the money” plea, Tidwell roars: “I’m a role model, Jerry,” adding “it’s a very personal … very important thing.”

Image: stacks of silver coins in a line, growing in height from left to right. Image via piqsels, piqsels terms of service. Income, which can often be distributed unfairly, determines social status.
 

Status matters. Not only in the eyes of others, but in our own self-evaluations too. Sociologists refer to this as subjective social status. To measure it, we told respondents to think of a ladder. At the top (10) are the people who are the best off. At the bottom (1) are the people who are the worst off. And, we asked: Where would you put yourself at the present time?

On average, American workers report a 6 on the status ladder. But those who report insufficient earnings and feel severely underpaid score significantly lower (4.9), compared to those who have sufficient earnings and feel their pay is appropriate (6.6). That difference holds regardless of education, occupation, income and job authority.

Can money buy happiness?

Some say money can’t buy happiness, but it goes a long way to providing status. And status often translates into happiness.

In our survey, Americans who don’t earn enough to make ends meet and feel underpaid are less happy and hopeful about the future. Life, for them, is less enjoyable. Inadequate earnings and feeling underpaid also erode happiness more strongly than the objective indicators of low socio-economic standing do. And one’s position on the status ladder eclipses all other socio-economic indicators in predicting happiness.

Our sample doesn’t include any professional football stars. But it does contain a broad cross-section of American workers — doggie daycare assistants, accountants, truck drivers, software engineers, sous chefs, electricians, candle-makers and on and on. All have a few things in common: They want to earn enough money to make ends meet, they want to be paid fairly for the work they do and they all share the fundamental human motive for status.

As dated as Jerry Maguire feels, “show me the money” still resonates. Maybe it always will. Given how consistent these indicators of income dissatisfaction have been for the past few decades, perhaps the Great Re-evaluation of work should focus first and foremost on compensation. Channel your inner Rod Tidwell!

Xin Ming Matthew Zhou, an undergraduate research assistant in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto, co-authored this articleThe Conversation

Scott Schieman, Professor of Sociology and Canada Research Chair, University of Toronto

This piece is reposted, with permission, from Sociological Images.

As the new year brings in a new peak in COVID cases across the country, we all have a right to feel a little down in the dumps.

One trend picked up by surveys earlier in the pandemic was a drop in self-reported happiness. Now, with a new year of General Social Survey data released, it looks like the trend continues.

Part of this change could also be explained by the survey’s new online administration method, but the pattern is consistent with NORC’s previous pandemic tracking survey.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness and wellbeing as I launch into teaching Introduction to Sociology this year, both because we want to do right by our students in a tough time and because new students thinking about majoring have a right to ask us: how is our field helping the world?

That’s why I was especially hopeful to hear about this study making its way around Twitter. The authors conducted interviews and surveys with experts in the field of happiness research to rank the things they thought would be most likely to increase life satisfaction based on their understanding of the research literature. Two important points caught my attention.

First, the researchers ranked both personal solutions and policy solutions to improve life satisfaction. This is important because we often think about our own happiness as an individual experience and an individual effort (often bolstered by the self-help industry). Focusing on policy reminds us that our individual wellbeing is linked to collective wellbeing, too.

Second, many of these experts’ top ranked solutions were explicitly about social relationships. For personal solutions, two of the top ranked suggestions were investing in friends and family and joining a club. For policy solutions, some of the top answers included promoting voluntary work or civil service and reducing loneliness.

It wasn’t just high expert ratings, low expert standard deviations indicated a lot of agreement about the value of social bonds. You can see the full set of results here, and the full paper here.

Expert consensus studies like this have a lot of limitations, since they only show us a glimpse of the current conventional wisdom. But this study also shows us the positive stakes of sociology. It reminds us that developing a better understanding of our relationships and investing in those relationships is not just a self-help fad; it can be a social policy priority to get us through tough times together.

Evan Stewart is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts Boston. You can follow him on Twitter.

Image: Shelving in front of a house in New Orleans with “Community Baby Supplies” sign and boxes of clothing, toys, diapers, and other supplies. Image courtesy of the author.

Jennifer Randles, “‘Willing to Do Anything for My Kids’: Inventive Mothering, Diapers, and the Inequalities of Carework,” American Sociological Review, 2020.

Originally posted May 5, 2021

One in three American families could not afford diapers for their kids before the pandemic. Now, demand for diapers has grown by almost 400% due to COVID-related financial hardship, and this shortage has disproportionately affected women and low-wage workers, parents who previously relied on employers, childcare centers, or diaper banks. “Diaper need” is causing health problems, racialized stigma, and financial burden as parents must choose between providing diapers and other necessities like food or electricity. New research by sociologist Jennifer Randles examines the overlooked issue of diaper need and the innovative, labor-intensive strategies families are employing to meet it. Over half of [the mothers in the study] named diapers as their most anxiety-inducing household expense. Randles conducted in-depth interviews with 70 mothers of young children. Over half of them named diapers as their most anxiety-inducing household expense, more than food, housing, or electricity. 

Respondents raised the health implications of diaper need for both children and parents. Keeping a baby in a used diaper for too long can result in painful rashes, urinary tract infections, and emergency room trips for the child. Mothers in Randles’ study went without medical care, internet access, toilet paper, tampons, food, and other necessities to save diaper money. Going hungry was particularly problematic for moms who were still breastfeeding.

Because diapers are considered fundamental to being a ‘good’ parent, diaper need also caused anxiety, loss of dignity, and stigma for mothers. As one respondent said, “it’s really scary for a mom not to have diapers, not to be able to provide this basic thing for your child.” The psychological consequences were intensified for mothers of color and poor mothers who faced contempt from welfare agents when trying to access diapers for their children due to racialized stereotypes of lazy and irresponsible “welfare queens.”  Diaper need is a public health problem without a public policy solution.Diaper need is a public health problem without a public policy solution. Although diapers are a basic hygiene need of early childhood, they are categorized as “unallowable expenses” by aid programs like SNAP and WIC. Most states tax diapers as “discretionary” expenses. As one mother said, “babies need diapers as people. They are not a luxury. They are about being human.” If they were covered under existing welfare programs, parents would not need to face these difficult choices.

Image: A white woman sits on a bed in pajamas, her arms clutched around her midsection in pain. Image courtesy of pixabay, Pixabay License.

How does pain affect the well-being of an individual? What about the well-being of a society?

In a recent article, Anna Zajacova, Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, and Zachary Zimmer argue that chronic pain is a social issue with consequences beyond medicine

In 2016, the CDC estimated that 20% of U.S. adults experience chronic pain. Chronic pain is a distinct phenomenon of suffering and disability that has significant mental and physical impacts. Chronic pain is different from acute pain from a temporary injury, such as a broken bone or a burn. A person who experiences chronic pain is more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, and twice as likely to commit suicide. 

Chronic pain disproportionately impacts certain groups. Overall, women experience slightly higher levels of pain than men. People with lower socioeconomic status experience significantly more chronic pain. For instance, individuals without a high school diploma experience three times the amount of severe pain than college graduates. These findings demonstrate that pain is connected to broader social inequalities and conditions. 

The seemingly private experience of pain has wide-ranging social dimensions and implications that require further study. Our suffering may be individually felt, but it must also be collectively understood, especially if we are to make real progress in advancing the health and well-being of all.

This piece is cross-posted over at Discoveries on The Society Pages

Image: A black woman sits on the floor, leaning against a sofa, in a low-lit room. Her head is in her hands, obscuring her face. Courtesy of pixabay, Pixabay License.

Originally published April 1, 2021

Recent sociological research documents a broad-based increase in mental health treatment-seeking in the United States. Access to such care remains unequal, however, presenting  real and persistent challenges to those in need. Sociologists, and other social scientists, offer important information about these inequalities and the barriers to equitable mental health care.

Over the past few decades there has been growing concern that people are being “overtreated” for mental health issues given increasing rates of mental health treatment and diagnosis in the population. Nevertheless, there are still many people with mental health conditions who are being “undertreated.” Specifically, there are large gaps between the number of people who have a diagnosable disorder and the number of people who actually receive treatment, particularly for serious mental health issues such as schizophrenia or substance abuse disorder.

Research in the sociology of mental health has often focused on the stigma around seeking or receiving mental health care, particularly for marginalized racial or ethnic groups. In fact, white men may be the most likely to have negative perceptions of care when compared to other demographic groups, as Ojeda and Bergstresser report. As the stigma related to mental illness decreases overall, additional research is needed to examine how, why, and for whom this stigma persists.

Access to mental health care is also limited by mental health practitioners and the mental health care system. In a recent experimental audit study, Heather Kugelmass found that patients with less education and black patients were less likely to receive a response when they sought help from a mental health care provider. In addition, Lincoln and colleagues found that patients with lower levels of literacy found it more challenging to navigate the mental health care system, struggling to fill out paperwork and make health-care decisions along with their care provider. Both the structure of mental health care, and the actions of mental health care providers, can create inequality for patients even after they have decided to seek care.

More people are accessing mental health care now than ever before. As the stigma around care decreases, and more people are seeking care, it is particularly important to ensure equitable access. By shedding light on how factors like disability, class, and race affect mental health care, social scientists can ultimately play a role in addressing inequities and alleviating mental distress.