205 posts categorized "Theory"

January 08, 2018

The Sociology of Knowledge and Textbooks

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociologists are interested in all things social, even how we come to know what we know. The sociology of knowledge is a fundamental question in sociological thought: how is knowledge produced? We also think critically about the social contexts in which we create what humans define as “knowledge.”

So how do you know what you know? Beyond your personal experience, what you learn as a student informs your depth and breadth of knowledge. As you prepare for exams, there are typically two sources of knowledge that you need to master to earn a good grade: things that your professor said in lectures in conjunction with ideas you read about in your assigned texts.

We often take for granted that these are main sources of knowledge without thinking about how ideas become part of your course work, and your textbooks specifically. The production of textbooks is a good example of how knowledge is produced in a social context.

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December 25, 2017

How Sociology Can Save the World

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

The title of this post comes from the name of a Lifelong Learning Institute class I taught recently. Lifelong Learning Institutes exit throughout the United States offering non-credit courses for adults 55 years and older. The class I volunteered to teach met once a week for four weeks. Here was the description of the course:

How Sociology Can Save the World: Let's face it: The world is pretty screwed up! The gap between the haves and the have-nots is skyrocketing, the earth is imperiled by human-caused climate change, and various acts of intolerance seem to be on the rise in many countries. Although there is no quick and easy remedy to all of the world's ills, we can take steps individually and collectively to get us back on track. In this class we will consider four sociological concepts that, if they were more widely understood and applied, could address many of the problems that threaten our collective existence. Each week, short readings that center around one of the four sociological concepts will be assigned.

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December 18, 2017

“So, What are you doing after you Graduate?”

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Perhaps you know what you are going to do after you graduate. As the fall semester starts to wrap up, there might be a nagging voice in the back of your mind that asks, “What are you doing to do after you graduate?” (Or maybe it’s part of family conversations as you get closer to your graduation date!)

Why do people pick the careers they do? Certainly, some people graduate with a good sense of a career. Some people knew what they were going to do from their first year of college. (That was definitely not me.)

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November 13, 2017

Getting a Job: Latent and Manifest Functions of Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The purpose of getting a college degree may seem obvious: the median weekly earnings of those with college degrees are nearly double what those with high school diplomas alone earn, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For those who hope to earn more money, a degree seems like a good idea. It is also likely to reduce the odds of being unemployed; according to BLS data, college graduates’ unemployment rates were about half of the rate for those with high school diplomas alone.

But what is it about a college degree that yields the higher weekly earnings and the greater likelihood of employment? Is it the content of what students learn, or other factors that are a less overt part of the college experience?

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September 11, 2017

The Nuances of Naming

B Raskoffy Sally Raskoff

The alt-right. White nationalists. White supremacists. Nazis.

Naming groups is part of what we do so that we can know who is who and what they are about. It’s also important to identify who is included as “us” and who is considered “them.”

Knowing your in-groups and out-groups facilitates our social interactions in positive, neutral, and negative ways. Reference groups operate on a less personal scale than in-groups and out-groups, as they are typically large scale and operate on a national or international level.

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September 04, 2017

Football and Foie Gras: How Taste Makes Groups

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Think about how taste works in your life. At some point you have, perhaps quite passionately, argued with a friend about a style or genre of music. Do your tastes define who you are as a person? Your taste in music, your taste clothes, your taste in food?

Taste seems like a very personal thing. It helps you craft your identity, right? It’s who you are. But taste is not a personal matter. It’s a profoundly social one.

What is taste? Let’s say that taste is the trained ability to make judgments on culture.

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August 28, 2017

What is Anomie?

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

A neighbor and I were talking as he was on his daily dog-walk past my home. He was expressing concern about how badly people drive, how rude they are, how no one seems to have any manners anymore, how people are more likely to walk looking down into their phones, even when crossing the street, rather than with their head held high and noticing what’s around them. He continued our conversation discussing events in the news, as it had been a particularly wacky and disturbing week, to put it lightly.

While I don’t usually “talk shop” with my neighbors and acquaintances as they walk their dogs, it seemed that he truly was seeking some solace or at least understanding about the state of things.

I saw my sociological opening and took it.

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June 12, 2017

This is Your Brain on Sociology

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

“My head hurts!”

I’m sure many students have uttered these words after sitting through a particularly dense or complex sociological lesson. I know I’ve felt this way during my own education and I have certainly heard students say it at the end of class. But do our heads literally hurt when we are studying difficult material? Or is this phrase just a figure of speech to convey how confusing the topic is we are trying to learn?

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May 01, 2017

Habermas is on Twitter

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Have you ever argued with a stranger on Twitter? I recently published a Washington Post op-ed based on my research of the corporate consolidation of music festivals, and was drawn into a Twitter argument with an employee of the second largest corporate entertainment conglomerate in the world. (We ended up agreeing!)

The conversation made me reconsider how technology shapes and informs our discourse. A sociologist who is rarely taught in undergraduate courses, Jürgen Habermas, can help us understand this. (His theories are complex, and his books are not really geared toward American students’ tastes.)

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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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