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April 17, 2017

Learning Sociology through Collaboration

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If sociology teaches us that we learn about our social world, others, and ourselves through social interaction, it stands to reason that a great way to learn about sociology is through interacting with others.

On the most basic level, interactive learning takes the form of class discussions. Many courses require students to conduct research, often through observation, interviews, or surveys, and this is also a good way to learn some of the tools of sociology.

But collaborative learning is more than just talking and conducting research. Collaborative learning involves problem solving with others, where students brainstorm, come up with research questions, seek answers, or work on large projects together.

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April 10, 2017

Neoliberalism: A Concept Every Sociologist Should Understand

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I have a confession: When I teach sociology I am often guilty of ignoring one of the most important concepts that every sociologist should understand. In fact, one of the main reasons for writing this post is to remind myself that I need to be more attentive to explaining this concept and discussing how it pervades our thoughts and actions. As you can tell from the title of this post, the concept to which I am referring is neoliberalism.

I know I am not the only sociology instructor who is guilty of leaving this important concept out of my curriculum. Over the years, the journal Teaching Sociology has published the results of a number of surveys that explore what topics sociology instructors deem to be most significant. In all of these cases, whether it is a study of the sociological core, of what students should understand after taking introduction to sociology, of which concepts, topics, and skills are most important, or even if there is a foundation of agreed on sociological knowledge, the concept of neoliberalism is usually left off the list.

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April 03, 2017

Get Out and Du Bois: Sociology at the Cinema

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

If you haven’t had a chance to see Jordan Peele’s thinky-horror blockbuster, Get Out, you should. It’s the story of a young black photographer named Chris and his new girlfriend, Rose. Things start getting really uncomfortable when they visit her white, suburban liberal family. And then things get really crazy.

Get Out pays homage to many of the usual tropes of the horror genre that kept me on the edge of my seat, but it’s the biting social commentary that kept my sociological imagination on high alert. It is a fun film, but it’s also an unflinching allegory for race in America that doesn’t let the white liberals in the audience off easily. You should not read any further until you see it, so go ahead. I’ll wait…

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March 27, 2017

Signs of Gender

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

You might be seeing new restroom signs popping up in public or private spaces. Single-person bathrooms are getting a makeover in many places with the gender specific labels replaced with gender “neutral” labels. Thus, anyone who has to go, can just go, without concern about using the “right” room.

Here’s a photo I took the other day of a room newly re-labeled. This is a very inclusive sign, as it says “all gender” and even has the accessibility icon:

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March 22, 2017

Don’t Ask an “Expert:” Read the Research

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I regularly get emails from high school students that I have never met, typically asking for help for an assignment where they are supposed to interview an “expert” about a topic of their choosing. The emails often contain a long list of questions that I cannot respond to due to time constraints.

I realize that these students have no control over the assignments that their teachers give them—although I have sometimes wondered if the emailed questions are meant to avoid actually doing some reading—and I can easily gripe about how those of us from the twentieth century never had this option, short of writing a letter if we could somehow find an address.

But the more I think about these kinds of emails, the more I think about the problems with assignment itself. Asking an “expert” is a poor way to learn about social science, which is based on examination of empirical evidence, not from the pronouncements of experts. Unless the students are taking a journalism class, interviewing someone seems like a missed opportunity to learn more about research.

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March 17, 2017

Love and Sociological Theory

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Earlier this term, I used Larson and Tsitsos’s (2013) “Speed Dating and the Presentation of Self” activity to get students to think about impression management and impression formation. The activity requires that half of the class stay seated, while others are tasked with switching seats/partners every three minutes. During each segment, students talk about anything they want. The activity enables students to practice analysis, participant-observation, and symbolic interactionism.

Partway through the activity, I modified the exercise and, after they switched partners, asked students to stare at the person across from them for one minute before talking. After about 30 seconds of nervous laughter and glances around the room, the students settled into staring. We then proceeded to finish the exercise without additional modifications.

Upon completion, and during our discussion component of the activity, several students mentioned that although staring at another classmate was “weird” and “made them uncomfortable,” it also created a connection between some of the participants. Students said that they felt closer and more trusting of the person they stared at. This trust enabled them to engage in deeper conversation and to feel an instant friendship with their staring partner.

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March 08, 2017

Thinking Beyond the Case Study

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Case studies are singular examples that seem to illustrate a phenomenon. Textbooks would be dull without them, and journalists often use interviews to add color to their stories. But case studies can become so alluring, and seem to illustrate interesting patterns so well that they can encourage us to draw conclusions without further investigation.

Take the case of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death in Queens, New York, in 1964. Her case gained notoriety because there were purportedly dozens of witnesses to the attack who did not call the police. This led researchers to study something they called the bystander effect, positing that the more people who observe an event take place, the less likely they are to take action because they presume that someone else will.

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