December 09, 2019

Teaching in the Shadow of Slavery

Myron strongBy Myron Strong

On a warm day in the spring, a colleague and I walked into Hilton Hall located on the Catonsville campus of my college. The campus was once a plantation and Hilton Hall, which more commonly is known as “the mansion,” had been renovated over the past 3 years for $10 million. I had never been there before and it was an eerie experience. It reminded me of growing up in Eudora, Arkansas, a small rural town that also was once a plantation, and had evolved into a segregated town separated by railroad tracks. There is spiritual weight to these places. History has mass – you feel it, see it and taste it. I felt it in “the mansion.”

I was there giving a lecture for a program, Invisible History: Exploring CCBC Hilton Center, a program created to address complaints expressed by some students, faculty, and staff concerning the college embracing a symbol of trauma and oppression. The program featured a panel of professors from different disciplines as well as the college president. When I heard about the program, I was afraid that it would glance over or romanticize history, so I insisted on being a part of it.

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December 02, 2019

Jokes and Scripts

By Jonathan Wynn

author photoWho doesn’t like a joke? Here’s one:

Campus Adviser: What class are you having the most difficulty with?

Sociology Student: The bourgeoisie!

Ok, I can hear your groans. I like jokes. There are probably only a few sociology jokes—I found the this one on reddit—but is there a sociology of jokes?

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November 27, 2019

Millennials, Social Capital, and Decision Making

Jessica polingBy Jessica Poling

Sociology Ph.D. student, Rutgers University

In his landmark book, Distinction, Pierre Bourdieu laid out a framework that characterized social stratification as the unequal distribution of “capital” among members of a given society. Bourdieu broadly defines capital as accumulated labor that can be found in material objects (such as valuable household items), embodied within individuals (such as unique knowledge or a skill that one might possess), or institutionalized. Bourdieu argues that it is by possessing capital that individuals gain social status; however, there is a limited quantity of capital within a social sphere, consequently motivating individuals to hoard capital to gain an advantage over others.

Capital is found in three forms: economic, cultural, and social. Whereas economic capital is that which can easily be converted into money, cultural capital includes accumulated knowledge, behaviors, or skills that demonstrate cultural competency. Finally, and of interest to this post, social capital encompasses realized or potential resources connected to one’s social network.

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November 25, 2019

Tammy’s Story: Revealing Rural Poverty

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

As Colby King recently blogged, the film People Like Us: Social Class in America is a useful tool to discuss class in sociology courses. I have used clips in various classes over the years, but the segment that has had the most impact has been the segment titled “Tammy’s Story.” Tammy lives in Waverly, Ohio, population 4,408; her segment does a particularly good job detailing the challenges of rural poverty.

The 2001 film first introduces Tammy Crabtree, a 42-year-old single mother with two sons. She is interviewed in a run-down trailer, and appears to have aged beyond her years (my students in image-conscious Los Angeles are always shocked when I mention her age after seeing the clip). Tammy has no means of transportation, so she walks to work at a Burger King ten miles away from home. She is filmed on this walk, which looks quiet and pastoral on first glance, but Tammy mentions that people shout nasty things to her, such as “trashy bitch” as she walks.

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November 18, 2019

Seeing People like Us in People Like Us

author photoBy Colby King

This week I screened People Like Us: Social Class in America, in my Introduction to Sociology class, as I have done just about every semester since I started teaching. Although the film is now about 20 years old, I’m still finding lots of reasons to use it.

People Like Us directly examines something we often have difficulty talking about: social class. As any student of sociology knows, the social categories we work with, like class, or race, or gender, can be difficult to discuss in both informal and academic settings. All of these categories are meaningful, shape patterns of social inequality, and are perpetually being contested and renegotiated in our everyday social interactions.

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November 11, 2019

Lower Ed: Replicating Inequality

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

What do you get when you combine the increase in low-wage work, the increase in people earning college degrees, and the decrease in state funding for higher education?

You get something sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom calls Lower Ed, which she examines in her book of the same name. Lower Ed refers to for-profit colleges and universities, which are on average twice as expensive as public four-year colleges and four times as expensive as community colleges. As public colleges and universities have lost a good deal of their state support, for-profit colleges have stepped into the void, offering easy year-round enrollment and assisting with financial aid applications.

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November 04, 2019

No STEM without MESH

author photoBy Jonathan Wynn

I am fond of saying that I don’t necessarily want my students to become sociologists, but that I do believe that sociology will make them better at whatever it is that they will end up becoming. (Don’t get me wrong: I love it if you want to be a sociologist!)

When I see campus and nation-wide emphasis on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) curriculum, I am somewhat disappointed that there is not a wider definition of Science. Occasionally someone will make the argument for arts training to add an A in there: STEAM.

First, sociology is a science. I like to joke that it’s right there in the “-ology” at the end of it. And our national organization, the American Sociological Association (ASA), published a document to develop standards for sociology-based high school curriculum and makes the case that sociology “is a STEM field.”

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October 28, 2019

Collective Action Derailed: The Danger of Judgment

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

We all jump to conclusions sometimes. We apply our past experiences and information that we may have gathered and apply it when processing information. Sometimes we do this so we don’t have to think much about a subject, especially if it causes us some distress. We may be especially likely to do this when we don’t have all of the facts about a situation or understand the context.

Hearing about people in poverty, people who are unemployed, homeless, victims of crime, and victims of police misconduct can be overwhelming. So sometimes we draw our own conclusions and focus on how the people affected must have done something wrong and are suffering the consequences. We do this in order to minimize any sadness, guilt, or responsibility to take action collectively.

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October 21, 2019

Household Labor: Inside a Sociologist’s Family

Schoepflin Housework

Download this episode

author photoBy Todd Schoepflin

One of my favorite topics in sociology is how couples arrange the work of running a household. It’s constant work to cook, clean, do laundry, repairs, and so on. Mix in caring for children if you have them, and that’s even more work that has to be done.

Knowing how much work my wife and I do at home, I think often of single parents who do the work themselves. Conflict can arise for couples when the division of labor is unequal. One of the best known books in sociology is The Second Shift (1989), written by Arlie Hochschild. It’s a book that influenced me to think deeply about how to contribute to housework and childcare.

Most of the men in her study didn’t share the labor of completing household tasks. (Here’s a video of Hochschild talking about her research for the book.) As she explains, the second shift is all the work that has to be done at home for working parents. And her study showed that much of this second shift work was completed by women. Couples often argued about inequalities surrounding this work. She found that women spent more time doing housework and childcare, and that a lot of husbands were supportive of their wives working so long as their wives managed the household. Couples were happier when they truly shared housework and childcare—and this is something I keep in mind when it comes to the daily work of operating a household with my wife.

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October 14, 2019

Libraries and Social Change

author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

I have vivid memories of visiting the library as a child, going to story hour and then being allowed to choose a few books to read that week. With age came the ability to take out more books and then eventually to have my own library card.

I still use the library all the time, but mostly online, whether it is my university’s library system or the public library to download e-books and audio books. While the way many of us use the library has changed, it is still a public institution whose importance we often overlook.

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