Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Sociological Image (Flower Shop Edition)

I'm always showing pictures I take to my students in Sociology classes. Of course, the Sociological Images blog has had a great run and has definitely influenced me. There's a recent article in Teaching Sociology "Using Sociological Images to Develop the Sociological Imagination" that shows us the value of analyzing sociological images. My students in Introduction to Sociology will be presenting sociological images as an assignment this semester. I'll give them plenty of my own examples to help prepare them. Here's my latest image, taken yesterday outside a flower shop.

I have a story about this flower shop. They pretty regularly update the sign outside their store. Once, when grabbing flowers there, I was over excited to share my idea for the sign with the person who was working that day. My sign idea was "Men Like Flowers Too." My recollection is the person was not impressed. This was many years ago and I can tell you my sign idea never saw the light of day. But I still embrace the idea. Why cut out half the market for flowers? Why do we cling to the socially constructed idea that women receive flowers, but men don't? Here's my simple test to whether a person should be eligible to get flowers for a gift, or for no reason at all: Does the person like flowers? If the answer is yes, the person can get flowers. Speaking for myself, I like pretty colors and the smell of flowers, so I'm eligible to receive flowers. But stupid norms means I don't get flowers. You know the song "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" as in "You don't bring me flowers anymore...." How about a song called "Can You Bring Me Flowers for the First Time?" Okay, this post is getting away from me. I can buy myself flowers and in fact I do grab grocery store flowers quite often. Point is, it'd be cool if we could rethink this gender norm. Fellas, you ever get flowers? Please report back if you can. Meanwhile, I'll also take your thoughts on the socially constructed expression "Happy wife, happy life." Thanks everybody, and have a good fall semester. Flowers improve office hours! 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Sociology of The Rehearsal

I watched all episodes of The Rehearsal. I was quickly drawn into the premise of practicing for uncomfortable interactions. The first episode centered on a person who had told a lie, and held to it for many years, and then decided he wanted to tell the truth to a friend. So he rehearsed the situation with actors. Being made for television, they built a replication of a bar where the interaction would take place. It was ridiculous, but this is television. Most of the subsequent episodes had to do with anticipating what parenthood might be like. There was a woman who wanted to see what it would be like to have a baby who grew up into childhood. And eventually Nathan Fielder inserted himself into the situation to see what it might be like to be a parent. So I watched it as a blend of "practicing for interaction" and "anticipatory socialization." Again, it was ridiculous at times. You can't replicate the emotions you'll feel as a new parent. You can't substitute actors for the children you'd parent. And it was loaded up with unethical elements (I won't spoil the last episode). I don't recall the word "unethical" being used, but the last episode gestured toward the very obvious point that so much of the show was unethical. But we may overlook such things when it's for television.

For much of the show, I wondered what an ethical version of The Rehearsal might be like. That is to say, we do practice for interaction all of the time. Just in a more normal way. It's often backstage, as Goffman would say. We think about what we might say. We anticipate how the interaction might go. We think about how people might respond to what we say, and, in turn, how we might react. I started imagining something like "The Center for Social Interaction" where people would come to talk about uncomfortable interactions that they wanted to practice. But we wouldn't build a set. We would just talk. It wouldn't be therapy, mind you. It would be practicing for interaction in an ethical way. What are the things you are worried about? What are the words you want to use? How might you say it better, or different? How do you think people will respond? How does this all make you feel? Let's talk this through! 

If you need a few different takes on the show, here's one from The New Yorker, and one from The Cut. I haven't read a lot about the show, these were just a few articles I've read while searching for what people had to say. I see the show has been renewed for season two. I'm curious if they'll stick to the formula that gathered viewers and got people talking in the first season. 

Meanwhile, and off screen, people will rehearse for interactions and life situations in their own ways. If you watched The Rehearsal, what did you think? And in what ways do you notice that you practice, or imagine, various kinds of interactions and life situations? 

Puking is Bad (Masculinity File)

I went for a jog this morning. 30+ years ago I ran on the cross country team in high school. Now, on the edge of age 50, I struggle to run a few miles. I currently harbor a delusion that I might play in a age 50+ rugby tournament in Summer 2023. So I'm using that as motivation to exercise. After I jogged today, I started doing "sprints" (whatever constitutes a sprint for a middle-aged plus person) and pushed myself, talking to myself in the process about how I hadn't eaten breakfast and wondered if I might yack while running. I didn't. But during my inner dialogue I recalled a report from a few days ago about Nebraska football players puking during practice. Head coach Scott Frost is quoted as saying: "It’s not because they’re not in shape—he’s just working them hard...I think they love it." My take on the matter is that puking is bad and something to be avoided. I feel bad for athletes of any age who are pushed to the point of throwing up. And, with regard to male athletes, I hope puking isn't worn as a badge of masculinity.

ESPN reporter Kevin Seifert, making a reference to Korey Stringer, covered the matter with good perspective: 

I'm saving this in my masculinity file and also as example of the sociology of sports.


Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Perfection and Grace

I dropped my 11-year-old off at school today. We waited in the car for about 10 minutes until it was time for him to head into school. We tend to listen to music when we're in the car together. He's an open minded music person, so he's up for indie rock, classic rock, and other genres. This is a kid who has Return of the Mack for his walk up song during baseball games (another story for another time), point being he's been introduced to many kinds of music. Today one of my favorite all time Steely Dan songs came on during our wait, Time Out of Mind, from the fabulous album Gaucho. The song that everybody knows from that record is Hey Nineteen. Time Out of Mind knocks me out every time. For both its lyrics and the groove. And the guest appearance by Michael McDonald. Damn. My little guy seemed to enjoy his first listen to the song. 

Anyway. There's not much to this except to say it's still hard for me to believe my kids are suddenly 14 and 11. At some point I might have something to say about observing high school dynamics through the experience of my 14-year-old. He seems to be thriving. High school was okay with me, and I made some good friends. But this kid seems to be relishing it so far. When our kids were babies countless parents who were more experienced often told my wife and me IT GOES SO FAST and we heard it so many times that it annoyed me but all of those parentals were totally right. It goes even faster than they promised.

The other day, a DJ on Sirius XMU was playing Guided by Voices and made a remark about one of their songs being on the station 15 years ago. It hit me hard. I remember getting acquainted with Sirius XMU and the indie songs they played at exactly that time, just before our now high schooler was born. I remember I am a Scientist being one of the first songs I heard on the station. Where the hell did 15 years go? All I know is I'm on the brink of 50 and I'm wearing middle age, certainly not with perfection, hopefully with some grace.

Teaching in a Time of Presenting

I'm kind of obsessed with PowerPoint. That is, hyper aware of it's presence without a preference to use it. I think I used it twice in the semester that just ended. I work hard in life to not be a hater, so I want to recognize the obvious point that many instructors are skilled at using PowerPoint and can use it as a tool to teach effectively. It's not my cup of tea.

As I experience it, PowerPoint guides me to present material. I don't have much success presenting sociological ideas via the PowerPoint format. For me, the classic whiteboard technique of writing bullet points as we go through the material remains my calling card. Writing on the board helps my pacing. Using the board I feel like I'm teaching. Using the software I feel like I'm presenting. 

Somehow I'm thinking about this one day after listening to someone going through a very rough time. This person is frustrated with an annoying neighbor, and is also extremely upset due to having a sick pet. The person tried to fight back tears in relaying details about their beloved pet to me. At the end of our time together, the person remarked I was like their therapist. It reminded me of my college days as a Psychology major. I developed a style of interaction focused on listening and then offering my thoughts, when solicited. As I gained more life experience I began to better understand the art of listening, and sitting here today I see more clearly that people want to be listened to. I tend not to talk much during interactions. I suppose I've been heading in this direction for a long time. I've even heard myself say in April and May "I don't like the sound of my own voice this time of year" meaning it's the culmination of an academic year when I've had to do a lot of talking in the classroom. I've never relied on lecturing as a professor. My classes have always been discussion based. So there it is. I don't like presenting and I try to limit my own talking. Outside the classroom, I don't care to do a lot of talking and I concentrate on listening and asking questions.

I'm 20+ years into my teaching career. In the last 1/3 of my career, I suspect I'll want to talk even less than I already do when I'm teaching. I doubt I'll get more into presenting. It's a good opportunity to develop a pedagogy of critical listening.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Is Hybrid the Way to Go?

I'm enjoying an unexpected snow day. The snow usually misses Niagara Falls when it hits the Western New York region. Yesterday it blasted Niagara Falls and surely presented a challenge for workers to clear the campus at Niagara University. Today was supposed to be the first day of classes, but instead we got a snow day. Credit to the decision makers who made it an old school snow day. Just because we have the technology doesn't mean we always have to use the technology. Sure, we could've made it a remote first day, but we can all blend in the first day with the next day. 

Speaking of technology....where are we with it, folks? Can we find the "just right" amount of technology to leverage? Up until recently I detested the cliché "leveraging technology," but I've come around. There is technology, and it can be leveraged. Early in the pandemic, more students than ever before got a taste of the college online format. My hunch is, they didn't hate it. (Please share a good data source on this topic if you can.) It looks to me like students came to like elements of taking all or more of their courses online. My in person enrollment is down this year. How appealing is a 9:00 a.m. class in person now when a year ago you could attend class with your camera off? 

I'll teach any and all ways. I came up in the chalkboard era. Give me a board and a piece of chalk and I can make it happen. Give me a technology station and I'll use it. I'll do a different thing on Google Meet. I like a toolkit with lots of tools. I still like to see students in person and connect with them in a room. It still works. But, many times in the Fall semester, while teaching in person on a Mon/Wed/Fri format, it occurred to me do we really need to meet three times a week in person, in the present era? We can preserve the best parts of teaching in person without doing it as much as we used to. And we can utilize technology to complete our teaching and learning needs. There will be Professor X or Professor Y who will say they need to teach totally in person. Luckily Professor X or Professor Y doesn't answer to me. I trust they know what's best for their teaching and learning process. My belief, sitting here on January 18 in the year 2022 on a snow day, is that I can teach sociology classes effectively using a blend of in person and online formats. 

It was cool when we were asked last year by our union to complete a survey related to this very topic. In my survey responses I hyped up the hybrid model, as I'm doing right now. I reserve the right to change my mind. Hell, we all do. But as it stands today, I see the hybrid model as the way forward.