Friday, August 26, 2011

Cornel West

This is a good read: Cornel West's op-ed in the New York Times...

West offers a powerful critique of American culture and American politicians. No doubt our treatment of our impoverished and elderly citizens is deplorable, and the persistent racism in our society is tragic. We've come so far but still have so far to go.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Church Sign - "Forget About Yourself"

I took this picture yesterday in Kenmore, NY. Have to say, I wouldn't mind dropping in for this sermon. "Forget About Yourself" is an interesting message, but good luck achieving it in this culture! It seems to me that "Forget About Yourself" is a countercultural message considering the Me-Me-Me-Me-Me society in America. Nonetheless, it's intriguing to see a message that goes against the grain.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Sheepdogs - "I Don't Know"

Love this song. Has a good 70s feel to it.

What do you think the song means?

I think a key passage in the song is "Lookin' back at me, is more than mystery, letters and pages of ancient history." This is obviously open to interpretation, but it sounds to me like the writer is referring to journals or diaries he has in storage. Maybe he's reading through those old journals and barely recognizes himself. Maybe there's a younger version of himself that is much different from the person he's become. But, despite growing up, he still feels confusion and anxiety about his path in life. Perhaps this is why he pleads "Somebody please help me!" and "I don't know, help me!" It sounds like there's some urgency in figuring out his next set of moves and choices.

Just a thought. What do you think?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Church Sign

I've taken an interest in signs outside of churches. In my neighborhood, there are lots of signs outside churches -- some with Bible verses, others with clever thoughts. I'm going to start collecting pictures of them as another way to investigate the social world. I found this one to be especially clever (taken in Kenmore, NY). I suspect I'll find that many of the messages communicate specific values to parishioners and the general public.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cool Buttons

Wish I was at ASA conference to score these!!! Saw them on Norton Sociology twitter feed.

Owly Images

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy Song

No sociological analysis today. Just a song that makes me happy. "Bad Street" by Twin Sister.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Doing Gender

"Doing Gender" is a classic sociological concept developed by Candace West and Don Zimmerman. Their article "Doing Gender" was published in Gender & Society (Vol. 1, No. 2, June 1987, pp. 125-151). Here are summary points about doing gender, based on their article.

1. "Doing gender” means that gender is a routine accomplishment in everyday life.

2. We “do gender” every day, all the time. It's an ongoing activity. We can’t avoid doing gender.

3. We do gender in interaction. 

4. Gender is not simply what a person is, it is something that a person does, in interaction with others. It is a product of social interaction. A production. A construction. A social construction.

5. And we do gender knowing that we will be judged by others. In other words, we are accountable for our gender performances. In this video, sociologist C.J. Pascoe brilliantly explains how the boundaries of masculinity are policed in social interaction in high school. (If video link to interview doesn't work, use this link to watch Pascoe discuss the use of homophobic taunts to police masculinity in interaction). 

6. If we behave outside the boundaries of normative gender scripts, we risk being judged harshly by others.

7. Keep in mind that, from an early age, we learn about “doing gender.”

8. Little girls are taught to value their appearance more so than little boys.

9. Little boys are taught different things than little girls.

10. “Be a big boy” and “Be a big girl” are different messages that convey different meanings about “appropriate” gender behaviors. This means not only "don't be a baby" but to learn how to "competently" be a boy or girl.

11. In this process, boys and girls begin to monitor their own behavior and the behavior of their peers in terms of whether the gender behavior is “appropriate.” (Appropriate, according to normative gender behaviors). The authors write: "And note, to "do" gender is not always to live up to normative conceptions of femininity or masculinity; it is to engage in behavior at the risk of gender assessment" (p. 136). 

12. Sociologist Tristan Bridges gives an excellent example of how we do gender with wallets and purses.

13. Doing gender can result in social stratification: if, in doing gender, men are being dominant and women are being submissive, this results in power differences and hierarchy!

14. Those who behave outside the lines of gender norms are, in effect, challenging the gender status quo.

The concept "doing gender" came to mind when I saw a wedding party at Erie Basin Marina in Buffalo. The bridesmaids wore bright pink dresses, and the groomsmen wore black tuxedos. I took a picture while walking by a wedding party. If you look closely, you'll notice two brides in the picture. Turns out two wedding parties were at the Marina for photographs. Both brides are wearing traditional white wedding gowns. Think of many weddings you've been to: all eyes are on the bride. It's her day. She's the princess, he's the prince who waits for her to walk down the aisle. Quite often, the bride's father "gives her away" to her new husband. It's all an exercise in normative gender roles. In that context, it's interesting to think about same-sex marriages and to contemplate how same-sex marriages challenge gender norms.

Monday, August 8, 2011

On PowerPoint

I won't call PowerPoint a villain. That's too strong, in my opinion. I don't see it necessarily as an enemy to good teaching and learning. I will also say that PowerPoint is definitely not a superhero. In no way do I see it as rescuing teachers and students. So if it's neither villain nor superhero, what is it? What does it do to our teaching? At best, what does PowerPoint accomplish? At worst, how does PowerPoint get in the way of good teaching and learning?

In general, I'm not a fan of PowerPoint. It seems to me like an extra option that one might get when buying a car or cell phone. Just because it's available doesn't mean I have to use it. But just because I don't love it doesn't mean others can't make good use of it. I understand how PowerPoint can effectively organize information and efficiently distribute it. I can see how the animation of text and the inclusion of graphics can help to gain and maintain the attention of students. I even use it once in a blue moon myself. It's just another tool in the box for me. Not as vital as a hammer or screwdriver. Just the 100th tool in my box that I can use on a rainy day. Sorry for the mixed metaphors.

I am not against the use of PowerPoint. I only ask people to reflect on the purpose for using it. I also ask people to think about how often they should use it. Using PowerPoint once in a while is very different than using it day in, day out. Take the students' perspective: how awful must it be to settle into a PowerPoint presentation every single class? I am a proponent of mixed methods: using a variety of teaching techniques to engage students and actively involve students in their learning. If PowerPoint is one of those techniques, wonderful. I just don't see how the regular use of it enhances learning (that's not just my personal opinion, there is some academic literature to support that viewpoint). By the way, if one looks long enough at the literature, one can find evidence to bolster one's point of view about PowerPoint.

Bottom line: we all know that technology doesn't do the teaching for us. We are the teachers; technologies aid our teaching. No one would say that using PowerPoint as a crutch is a good idea. If PowerPoint helps you be a great teacher, go for it. Does it? If PowerPoint is your default mode of instruction, ask why that's so. Teaching is a blend of style and content, a constant challenge of presenting information in an interesting way that results in students learning that content, and then being able to apply what they've learned in some way. What tools help you achieve your teaching goals? What tools make you a better teacher?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another Sociological License Plate

Added a new sociological license plate to my collection today....

For more on sociological license plates, see this blog:

An Honorable Man

I was lucky enough to run into an honorable man. Just when I thought I had life figured out, he shook my view of the world. He did it by appealing to my conscience and pointing me in the right direction. You're fortunate if you meet such a person in your lifetime. In my adult life I have witnessed too many people acting primarily in terms of self-interest and self-preservation. Not to mention self-pity and self-absorption ("What's best for me? How does this help me? I can't catch a break.") We always have room to grow, so we're lucky to occasionally meet people that make us better.

Author's note: this post was inspired by an actual event in my life. I characterize it as creative non-fiction.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Race & Ethnicity: A Writing Assignment

When it comes to race and ethnicity, everybody has a story to tell. Everyone talks about race. They might talk about it privately, but they talk about it. Race is no doubt a common ingredient in conversations. I'm going to try a new assignment in my Race & Ethnicity course this semester, and most likely will tie the assignment to presentations at the end of the semester.

The assignment: Write a diary to keep track of the things you say and hear about race. Are there themes in your conversations about race? What do you overhear people saying about race? In addition to conversations about race that you're privy to, use the diary to keep track of your own thoughts and reflections about race and ethnicity. For example, use the diary to record your observations about race in public places. Write at least one entry per week throughout the semester. Plan to turn your diary in at the midpoint of the semester so that the entries can be checked for appropriate progress. Plan to turn your final diary into a five page paper in which you reflect upon and discuss your thoughts, observations, and conversations about race and ethnicity during the semester.

Note: I think I'll have students do brief presentations (approximately 10 minutes) in which they summarize their diaries, which will hopefully produce some follow-up Q & A from their peers.

Any feedback on this idea? Suggestions for making it an effective assignment? I welcome comments.

Click here for a collection of resources for teaching and learning about race and ethnicity.

Strain Theory: A Student's Perspective

Thank God Sociology class is over. My professor just rambled on about something called Strain Theory. He went on and on about Robert Merton. I think he's in love with Robert Merton. He came in and drew this ridiculous chart on the board with plus and minus signs. I could barely see it. There's a bunch of categories that don't make a lot of sense. Something about bank robbers being innovators. Whatever. I stopped listening after ten minutes. At the end of class he gave a speech about how the categories probably aren't the most important part of the theory. And that we shouldn't get too consumed about plus and minus signs. So why did he spend the entire class working on that idiotic chart? He finished his speech by saying the crucial part of the theory is thinking about the disjunction between cultural goals and approved means for obtaining those goals. He said Merton was interested in how people responded to the pressure of not being able to obtain the cultural goals. That everyone is aware of the goals, but sometimes lack of opportunities or resources make it impossible to obtain those goals. That creates strain, and strain produces deviance. He mentioned that some people respond by scaling down the goals or rejecting them altogether. Okay, all of that made sense. He got my attention with his little speech. So why did he wait until the end of class to say that? And why didn't he let us talk about it?

If I was teaching Strain Theory I would focus attention on the cultural goals and the acceptable ways to achieve the goals. And then I would get into the categories and have students give some of their own examples. And then I would have students write a story about one of the categories. For example, they could write a story about someone who took the path of ritualism or retreatism. Or they could write a story about someone who didn't take a deviant path. So they could write about someone who stayed on the socially acceptable road. That would be a fun class, and we would all learn more in the process.

The End.

Author's note: I wrote this story after thinking about what it must be like for students to listen to someone teach Strain Theory in a traditional, linear, textbook fashion. I doubt students love strain theory as much as we do. Don't be afraid to teach Strain Theory in an alternative way. The textbook presentation of Strain Theory is typically stale. So it's up to us to bring it alive.