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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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