2013-2014 Sociology Courses
First-Year Studies: Understanding Mass Media: Theories and Methods of Sociological Analysis
The mass media profoundly shape everyday reality. We become aware of the world beyond our immediate experience through media representations and virtual social networks. Representations do not simply convey information but also structure our understanding of society, the meaning of social categories, and our sense of self. This course will provide an introduction to theories of media and society, including the media as a component within capitalist economies, as a public sphere in democratic societies, and as a form of culture. We will explore how the media make meaning and how social identities are reflected and constructed through media products. We will consider the role of audiences as recipients of media messages and as active participants in the use of media in everyday life. And we will examine new information technologies—including blogs, forums, wikis, and Web sites—to investigate whether they change the relationships between individuals and media institutions, between media professionals and the public, between experts and lay people, or between governments and citizens. Our readings on social theories about the media will be paired with empirical examples from studies of newspapers, television, movies, radio, magazines, advertising, and the Internet. Students will learn methods of media analysis—including narrative analysis, genre theory, content analysis, framing, and semiotics—and apply them in collaborative projects and conference work. Although it will include interdisciplinary content, the class will be rigorous and is likely to appeal to students with an interest in studying and applying theories and methods from the social sciences.
Marginality and Penalization
Marginalization is a characteristic trait of cities in the first world, and penalization has been responsive to new forms of urban development since the 1980s. Marginality refers to the exclusion of certain populations from a social mainstream because of cultural differences (race, ethnicity, religion), social roles (women, elderly, adolescents), and/or their location in the social structure (political, economic, social powerlessness). By definition, penalization subjects a person or entity to legal sanctions and punishment and/or imposes an unfair disadvantage. This lecture examines these topics in urban areas of, particularly, the United States and Europe via the texts and critics of one their most prominent sociologists: Loïc Wacquant. Wacquant’s recent work on marginality and penalization presents new, debatable arguments. The course looks closely at these works and special journal issues compiled in response to them. We will introduce the problems—racial and cultural encapsulation, migration and immigration, education, health care, jobs, housing, globalization, poverty—and scrutinize the debates, e.g., the role of the state, differences in the way marginality is constructed, its impact on social mobility, new penal policies and their connection to urban renewal, the decline of the social welfare state, punishing the poor, the outsourcing of work, and forms of resistance.
Cities and Urbanization
What is the object of study for urban sociologists? The very concept of “urban” is a geographical, political, and cultural constellation, but what constitutes the limits of the city? This lecture examines the historical constitution of urban sociology and surveys the development of cities as sites for the study of social affairs, institutions, and innovations. We will explore core approaches to the study of the city—the ecological approach, subcultural approach, political economy approach, and postmodern identity-based approaches—and seek to understand their relation to one another, as well as how they address such urban issues as suburbia, consumption, ghettoes, globalization, immigration, race, crime, and gentrification. The group conference portion of the course reviews select methods of qualitative social research in pursuit of a greater understanding of how one conducts research in/of the city. We will emphasize study design and fieldwork while exploring technicalities of the case study, ethnography, interviews, discourse analysis, and action research.
Sociology of Education
This seminar introduces students to sociological theory, methods, and research on the topic of schooling in the United States and abroad. Using both classical and contemporary readings, we will examine the reciprocity between and among schools, individuals, and societies and traverse conversations on the purpose and promise of schooling in response to industrialization, urbanization, and globalization. Topics addressed include the influence of politics, policy, and economics on the field of education; inequality and the factors of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality; culture and youth behavior; schools’ organizational environment; and different techniques of reform: accountability, autonomy, community engagement, charters, vouchers, network governance, mayoral influence, teacher evaluation, and financial incentives.
Lineages of Utopia
Utopias have existed for centuries in human history. Guided by a critique of the world as constituted, they have been vehicles for both imagining and constructing a different sociospatial order. In this seminar, we will examine the materialization of utopias in physical space and the logic(s) that informed them. Rather than dealing simply with the abstract ideas behind utopian thinking, we will examine a diversity of sociospatial formations, both as a critique of the present state of existence and as a practice rooted in a radically divergent notion of the future. It is the contention of this course that utopias, rather than being solely imaginary, are deeply historical and informed by existing social conditions. With the objective of analyzing utopias as materialized practices, we will look at different kinds of utopian communities, ranging from millenarian movements to socialist, anarchist and countercultural experiments, as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement. We will also examine architectural and aesthetic utopias that, like their more explicitly movement-based counterparts, attempt to visualize and rethink space—which remains an essential utopian preoccupation. Our foray into these various utopian designs will get us to think about the impulses undergirding these practices instead of an approach that dwells primarily on their sustainability over time. We will attempt to understand the traces that these various experiments have bequeathed us regarding activism, social transformation, and the potential for a more just world. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to address our living relationship with utopia by asking how we might individually and collectively work to create, experience, or perform utopia without ascribing a totalizing vision to it. Student projects might take the form of a close examination of specific utopian practices, be based on creative projects, and/or examine fictional utopias frequently encountered in science fiction novels and film. While the course will not specifically address the vexed relationship between utopia and dystopia, an examination of the latter remains yet another possible line of inquiry for conference work.
Disabilities and Society
In this seminar we will broadly consider the topic of disability within contemporary society, examining questions of social justice, discrimination, rights, identities, and cultural representations. Disability studies is an interdisciplinary field of academic study that emerged out of disability rights movements and has, therefore, focused on how social structures are disabling, limiting, and exclusionary. In concert with this perspective, we will study the history of the disability rights movement, including the passage and ramifications of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We will also consider tensions within disability movements, including the difficulties inherent in mobilizing a collective identity that encompasses a wide range of conditions and circumstances. In addition to political mobilization, we will analyze cultural meanings and representations of physical, psychological, and cognitive disabilities. Cultural representations of disability shape our assumptions and expectations, while disability activists have used literature and art to contest stigma and create new kinds of representations of non-normative bodies and selves. Finally, we will consider questions of embodiment, self, and identity. Disability is typically defined in terms of physical or mental impairment, which implies that there is a “normal” state of nonimpairment. Defining disability has been highly contested, both because of the stigma attached to those who are seen as different and because many people with conditions that have been labeled as disabilities do not see their conditions in negative terms. Most of us will experience some degree of impairment at some point in our lives, but only some of us will be seen as, or identify ourselves as, disabled. Some disabilities are a part of identity from an early age, and others develop later in life. Thus, we will consider the relationship between embodiment, ability, and selfhood, looking at how people negotiate identity in relation to social categories and their own embodied experiences.
Medical technologies—such as artificial heart valves, genetic screening tests, new drug treatments, and visual imaging devices—are continually being invented and incorporated into medical practice and everyday life. Technology has alternately been viewed as leading to miraculous improvements in human life or as unnatural and dehumanizing. In this course, we will explore these views of medical technology, while also asking sociological questions. How are new technologies produced and incorporated into medical practice? How are medical technologies an outcome of interaction among multiple social actors, including physicians, patients, entrepreneurs, pharmaceutical companies, government regulatory agencies, and social movement activists? How have boundaries such as “natural” or “technological” been established and contested? Are new technologies contributing to increasing health-care costs? How are the risks of new technologies regulated, and how is access to them determined? Previous course work in the social sciences is not required.
Sociolog(ies) of the Body
The Political Economy of Pakistan
Pakistan is a country that, since the 1970s, has consistently been in the headlines. At that time, it gained notoriety as a conduit for drugs. Today, it is better known for its involvement in the “War on Terrorism.” The year 2014 is key in this regard, as the United States plans to pull out the bulk of its troops from Afghanistan during this year. What does this barrage of coverage actually tell us about the place, its people, and their ongoing struggles? In this course, we will examine Pakistan beyond the headlines and media coverage. Starting with its history of creation, we will look at questions of globalization (both economic and military), nationalism, class formation, and the relationship between the state and Pakistan’s various “publics,” including religious, gender, and ethnic minorities. Most particularly, our emphasis will be on the attempt to grasp the existence and potential for what some have called “Another Pakistan” through struggles for social justice and human rights and critical representational strategies. For our readings, we will draw upon a variety of materials from the humanities and social sciences, as well as films, blogs, and creative works. While the focus of this course is on a specific place—Pakistan—many of the questions raised are relevant to other contexts; e.g., the relationship between authoritarianism and the national security state, globalization and militarization, center-periphery relations both internally and externally, state and civil society relations, grassroots movements, and struggles for a more egalitarian society. Student projects may be specific to Pakistan, more theoretical than area-focused, and/or tackle some of the themes of this course in context(s) other than that of Pakistan.
Gender and Nationalisms
Nationalism can be understood as a project simultaneously involving construction(s) of memory, history, and identity. In this seminar, we will identify the multiple and shifting dimensions of nationalism as a world historical phenomenon. Central to our focus will be the centrality and particular constructions of gender in different national projects. Attention will be paid to nationalism in its colonial and contemporary trajectories. Questions to be addressed include: What is the relationship between nationalism and identity? Which symbols/languages are called upon to produce a sense of self and collective identity? What are the various inclusions, exclusions, and silences that particular historically constituted nationalisms involve? Is nationalism necessarily a positive force? If not, under what circumstances, in what ways, and for whom does it pose problems? What is the relationship of nationalism(s) to minorities and socially/politically marginalized groups? How is pluralism and difference constructed and treated? How do the same positions (e.g., issues of cultural authenticity and identity) take on a different meaning at diverse historical moments? How does the insider/outsider relationship alter in different periods and conceptualizations? Women have been interpellated and have participated within nationalist movements in a variety of ways. The dynamics and contradictions of such involvement will be analyzed closely. We will strive to explore the implications of these processes for women’s sense of self, citizenship, and belonging at specific periods and over time. In the spring semester, we will turn our attention more specifically to performances of nationalism through institutional and popular cultural arrangements. Under the former category, we will look at issues of migration, immigration, and exile; public policy and international relations; war and conflict. In the arena of popular culture, we will examine the production of nationalism(s) through the mass media, sports, film, museums and exhibitions, and tourism. Conference work may include an examination of a specific nationalist movement, theoretical issues pertaining to nationalism(s), memory, identity, performances of nationalism(s) in popular culture and the mass media, and the interplay between institutional and everyday constructions of nationalism in specific settings.