The Meaning of Marxist Alienation
Tags: capitalism, class, marx/marxism, organizations/occupations/work, theory, alienation, division of labor, species essence, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video summarizes Karl Marx's concept of alienation. Marx wrote about alienation as a condition that uniquely arises from capitalism, and it comes in two basic flavors: first, workers are alienated from the product of their labor, and second, they are alienated from each other. It's useful to consider each of these claims separately. In the first instance, workers are alienated from the stuff they create because it disappears to shops in far off places; however, under capitalism, it is often the case that even when a product is sold in a shop just down the road from the factory or farm where it was created, workers often cannot afford it. For instance, many Ivory Coast cocoa farmers cannot afford to buy the chocolate they produce and just as many have never even tasted it. • In terms of the second type of alienation, workers are alienated from each other, meaning that the capitalist mode of production generally prevents workers from forming meaningful relationships with one another. Consider that one characteristic feature of capitalist production is the division of labor, which means that each worker becomes efficient at completing a single, tedious task, leaving him or her with neither the time nor opportunity for the kind of interpersonal interactions that were once a part of the production process (recall how Charlie Chaplin's character in Modern Times couldn't tighten bolts on an assembly line fast enough and how Lucille Ball's character in an episode of I Love Lucy couldn't wrap candy on an assembly line fast enough). In any case, as the video's narrator states, Marx argued that the only way out of this alienating mode of production is to organize and revolt. As Marx and his coauthor penned in The Communist Manifesto: "Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains."
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: bodies, gender, health/medicine, marketing/brands, body dysmorphia, masculinity, michael kimmel, reflexivity, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video advertisement directs viewers to a workout program that promises to give men the washboard abs of their dreams, but for sociologists, the ad simply underscores an emergent masculine ideal, which is neither timeless nor inevitable. Contrary to all appearences, the ideal may not be all that healthy either. • In his article "Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity," sociologist Michael Kimmel traces the origins of masculine ideals in the United States to the eighteenth century, where men aspired to the ideal of a Genteel Patriarch, whose standing was based on landownership. The Genteel figure was refined and elegant, while also being sexual and strong. According to Kimmel, by the 1830s the Genteel Patriarch gave way to a new ideal, or what he calls the Marketplace Man. This figure "derived his identity entirely from his success in the capitalist marketplace, as he accumulated wealth, power, status." • Fast forward to 2015 and take stock of the above video advertisement from Six Pack Shortcuts. Johnny, "the Six-Pack-Abs" pitchman, begins by asking men to guess which muscle is "scientifically proven" to attract women. Johnny assures viewers with a knowing smirk that he isn't talking about the penis (After all, it would be unacceptably shallow and misguided to objectify and fetishize a particular part of a man's body!). No, he's referring to men's abs, and he claims to know because, well, science, and because he's the six-pack-abs-guy. He also quotes from Men's Health, which states that women know "a little excess midriff meat now means one sloppy, fat bastard in 10 years." • In the view of many sociologists who study masculinity, the Marketplace Man has given way to a new Supermale masculinity, which is an aspirational ideal that involves manipulating one's body, purging it of fat stores, and accentuating muscle striation. In a relational context, the Supermale affirms his status by high-fiving the bros, broadcasting short clips of his lifts, posting carefully lit selfies of his abs on social media, and by frequently using the hashtag #DoYouEvenLift. • Masculine ideals change over time, and the generation of men who strive to ascend the ranks of any given ideal simultanously avail themselves to new possibilities and vulnerabilities. To understand the masculinity of an era is to understand the sacrifices men are being enticed to make, as well as the widely-shared conseqences for making those sacrifices. Those who pursued the ideal of the Marketplace Man were vulnerable insofar as they directly pinned their masculinity to the viscissitudes of market capitalism, but what are the distinct vulnerabilities of men pursuing the ideal of the Supermale? The fact is that the Supermale is a largely unattainable ideal that may lead boys and men to develop body image concerns, or even body dysmorphia. Johnny, the six-pack-abs-guy, and the entire industry Johnny represents, excel at branding their products as healthy, but if those products promise to deliver an unattainable ideal, they may be doing more harm than good.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
The Wire and Educational Inequality
Tags: children/youth, class, education, inequality, race/ethnicity, the wire, 00 to 05 mins
Length: 1:31; 1:48
Access: YouTube clip 1; clip 2
Summary: Public education is meant to be the "great equalizer" and the cornerstone of the American Dream. But the reality is that the US has the greatest educational inequalities in the developed world, and in many ways, our educational system reproduces inequality rather than lessening it. These inequalities are largely rooted in how public schools are funded in the US. Most countries fund schools centrally and equally, but in the US, schools are largely funded through local property taxes and the wealthier your neighborhood, the wealthier the school (on average, wealthy schools spend 2-3 times more per pupil than poor schools). The impacts of these inequalities have been well documented in Kozol's (1991) classic study, Savage Inequalities, in more recent work (e.g. see "Structured for Failure: Race, Resources, and Student Achievement" by Linda Darling-Hammond, 2010); and they are illustrated throughout season 4 of The Wire. For example, schools in poorer districts cannot pay as high for teacher salaries and have a harder time attracting good teachers. In the first Wire clip above, the Principal and Assistant Principal discuss the teacher shortages that they have in science and math, and how the teachers took jobs in suburban schools. Roland Pryzbylewski (Prez) enters their office (after dealing with the schools' deteriorating infrastructure) in search of a job, and while he still lacks his teaching credentials, he is hired to teach math. Poor, low-achieving schools are five times as likely to have unqualified teachers, and this impacts teacher quality in the classroom (Darling-Hammond 2010). Schools in wealthier neighborhoods offer much higher salaries, more educational resources, and have fewer disruptive students, thus attracting better teachers to teach children from wealthier families. But the principals are happy to hear his past job was a police officer, given the severe behavioral issues Prez will face in the classroom. In the second clip, Bubbles helps his friend Sherrod return to school. Sherrod stopped attending school in the 5th grade, and is now 13 years old, which is a typical age for an 8th grader. But due to a lack of resources for students to repeat grade levels and a view that if they place the older children in the younger classes, "it us unfair to teachers, who are responsible for maintaining order." Accordingly, Sherrod will start off attending the 8th grade. This policy of "social promotion" effectively guarantees that Sherrod will not be prepared for the academic material taught in class. These types of inequality are also much more likely to impact students of color. Viewers would also be interested in this experiment on Oprah, where students from poor inner-city school traded places with a wealthy suburban school, which reinforces the examples above. You can also view other clips from The Wire that are useful for teaching sociological concepts.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: children/youth, consumption/consumerism, gender, social construction, gender binary, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This local newscast covers a recent Target store's removal of the "boys" and "girls" sections to go gender-neutral. They note the store is changing the symbolic pink and blue background colors to neutral colors. While in the past, girls played with Barbies and boys played with action figures, Target is transcending these distinctions to enable different toys, electronics, and bedding goods to appeal across gender boundaries. They note their decision to go gender-neutral is based on "customer feedback" and that separate girls and boys sections are "not necessary." Some customers reacted negatively to the switch, stating "Can you say publicity stunt?", "RIDICULOUS!!!", and "No longer a fan or shopper of Target." In effect, these customers are policing the gender binary. One of the news shows' interns praises Target for the move toward "gender equality" and enabling children to "create their own person and not have to choose one thing because that's what they're supposed to choose." For related videos, viewers may want to check out similar debates about a J. Crew advertisement, a 5-year old boy who loves to wear dresses, efforts to make gender-neutral Legos, Fox news analysts that mock gender-neutral bathrooms, and a peer sex educator that breaks down the gender binary.
Submitted By: Sanah Jivani
Tags: inequality, lgbtq, marriage/family, media, sex/sexuality, representation, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: At the 2015 Emmy Awards, Viola Davis won an Emmy for her role in the TV show, “How to Get Away With Murder,” making her the first African-American to win an Emmy for best lead actress in a drama series. Her acceptance speech was equally important, as she “placed her award within the larger context of diversity in Hollywood.” Davis’s win and acceptance speech reflect a situation that is simultaneously characterized by changing and static social dynamics. This resembles what sociologist Patricia Hill Collins has called the “changing-same” nature of contemporary social inequality, a situation in which new opportunities for change are presented as a result of dramatic shifts in the global political economy, yet where patterns of racial, gender, class and other inequalities nonetheless remain intact. This video clip provides another opportunity to consider the changing-same feature of social inequality in Hollywood. Focusing specifically on representations of queer characters on television, the clip illustrates how these representations have changed over the past several decades. As explained in this Slate article, “These days there are more queer TV characters than ever before, and television representations of gay life are increasingly rich and nuanced, even as the old lesbians-titilate, gays-entertain tropes sometimes remain in play. This video considers all the out-queers on the small screen—as well as all the gay wannabes, pretend-to-bes, and should-bes—taking stock of how far we've come and looking forward to where we might go next.” Yet, given Collins' insight on the changing-same nature of social inequalities, viewers are encouraged to consider how patterns of inequality around sexuality, queerness, and gender non-conformity remain entrenched in American popular culture. Thanks to Michael Miller for suggesting this clip.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: aging/life course, demography/population, methodology/statistics, demographic transition, fertility, mortality, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In an earlier video post from The Economist I introduced the population pyramid, which is a type of graph used by demographers to interpret population characteristics and project how those characteristics will change in the future. Using these pyramid graphs, it's possible to discern whether a given population is growing rapidly, growing slowly, or in decline, and whether the country has undergone a demographic transition. Few graphs are more useful than population pyramids, for they allow policymakers to establish tax structures, based on projections of the number of working-age people who will be able to pay taxes and the number of people who will be dependent on social services. Knowing characteristics of a population is also essential if one hopes to prevent food shortages, avoid ecological threats, and lesson the blow of chronic poverty. This video lesson prepared by Kim Preshoff is a nice primer on reading the graphs, as it compares the population distributions of a number of different countries, including Russia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Canada, Japan, China, and the United States. After watching the video and discussing the potential challenges each country faces, it's useful to ask students to find or create population pyramids for other countries and report on the challenges their chosen country faces based on its population characteristics.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: class, education, inequality, housing, intergenerational inequality, school funding, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this commercial for Realtor.com, Elizabeth Banks explains how privilege is passed on from parents to children. In the ad she explains a feature on the Realtor.com website that shows where school boundaries are located. This gives parents looking for a house the ability to know which schools their children will attend, or as she states, it lets you “know where to live to get your kid into the best school.” She then explains how sending kids to better schools means attending better colleges, which means better jobs. In just 12 seconds, she explains how economic inequality is reproduced from generation to generation. The importance of housing in maintaining and reinforcing inequality has been explored extensively in sociology. Property taxes are a major source of funding for public schools. Those schools located in districts with higher housing values will generally have more funding for public schools. Students in higher income areas have better facilities and supplies, more access to technology, and more opportunities for extra-curricular activities. This then increases their chances of attending better colleges, and therefore increases their chances for higher occupational attainment. Rather than education leveling the playing field between poor, middle-class, and rich students, we see that education is a way that inequality gets reinforced. The commercial is appealing to parents to buy houses in the “good neighborhoods” and avoid the “bad neighborhoods.” But what does this mean for families who don’t have the financial wherewithal to move into neighborhoods with the best school districts? Their kids are more likely to attend underfunded schools, which decreases their chances of attending better colleges. So we see the children of middle-class and upper-class parents will have opportunities and privileges passed on to them that are denied those from lower socio-economic statuses. This video would pair well with this New York Times article.
Submitted By: Wes Shirley
Tags: class, education, foucault, government/the state, inequality, knowledge, marx/marxism, theory, alienation, althusser, gramsci, hegemony, state apparatuses, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In my Classic Sociological Theory class, I ask students to write a reflective essay on Marxist concepts of alienation (see also here, here, here, here, and here) and class conflict, and then I ask them to relate the concepts to Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." It is a common misunderstanding that Marx was solely a materialist who ignored the sphere of ideas. On the contrary, Marx explicitly argued that "the ideas of the rulling class were in every epoch the ruling ideas." To stretch students’ analytical skills I ask and encourage them to also incorporate Althusser’s idea of state apparatuses (repressive and ideological). That is, drawing from the video, what does it mean to say that the state is repressive in order to further the interests of the ruling classes? I then ask students to push their argument even further and incorporate a discussion of Gramsci’s notion of hegemony (see also here, here, and here). Here the question is, how does the bourgeoisie develop a hegemonic culture, wherein its own values and norms become common sense for all? Instructors should feel free to press for a more radical departure from Marx. For instance, it might be fruitful to draw on Foucault to analyze resistance, punishment, and the complex notion of power-knowledge. I remind students that the objective is not to merely summarize the theories and create links between concepts and the video, but to use the video as a springboard for a deeper discussion about resistance and oppression.
Submitted by: Hadi Khoshneviss, University of South Florida
Tags: culture, discourse/language, knowledge, theory, cultural transmission, ferdinand de saussure, primatology, signifier, signs, symbols, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: There is a widely held myth that humans are distinct from all other animals because we have culture. As sociologists understand the term, culture is the system of beliefs, skills, and knowledge shared by a group of people or society, and stated in those terms, it is not something unique to homo sapiens. In fact, as Gillian Anderson (i.e., Dana Scully from The X-Files) explains in this short video, chimpanzees have a kind of culture too. What makes humans unique is that we are capable of passing on our culture, knowledge, and skills across generations to strangers we’ve never met, a phenomenon known as cultural transmission. Unlike chimpanzees, who have been observed teaching other chimpanzees how to use tools from their environment, humans are not limited to face-to-face interactions. Through our use of symbols, or signifiers in the terminology introduced by the Swiss semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure, we have proven to be very capable of transmitting our culture in various forms, such as writing, paintings, photographs, videos, and even in the artifacts we've designed, like tombstones and telephones.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Broken Windows, Broken People
Tags: class, crime/law/deviance, inequality, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, violence, broken windows theory, criminal justice system, institutional racism, racism, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This exquisitely illustrated presentation from artist Molly Crabapple examines the origins of the broken windows theory, the kind of policing it led to, and the theory's connection to the deaths of people like Eric Garner and Akai Gurley. As Crabapple explains, social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling introduced the theory in 1982 in an article they wrote for the Atlantic Monthly. "Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree," they explained, "if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken...one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing." • The theory has proven to be enormously influential in cities and municipalities all over the United States, and in New York City the theory appears to be the justification, if not the inspiration, behind the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk program. In line with the philosophy that police officers should devote time and attention to preventing broken windows in an effort to stave off a larger breakdown of social order, the NYPD regularly stops and searches people they encounter on the streets in order to confiscate guns before they can be used in more serious crimes. However, as Crabapple notes, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that broken windows policing doesn't mean police will fix up poor neighborhoods, and arguably, stop-and-frisk policing has not been implemented as a way to restore safety to crime-ridden communities. On the contrary, a far more convincing case can be made that the stop-and-frisk program has simply directed a disproportionate share of police scrutiny toward poor and marginalized people. • As a result, critics argue that the program has weakened citizens' cooperation with police, and it may have even increased the number of violent altercations between police and the citizens of those marginalized communities. On February 19th, 2014, NYPD officers beat 84-year-old Kang Wang for jaywalking. On July 17th of the same year, police choked and killed Eric Garner after initially confronting him based on the suspicion he was selling loose cigarettes. On the day he was killed, Garner voiced his objection to the police harassment, stating, "This stops today." Unfortunately, the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program and other forms of broken windows policing are by now entrenched features of the criminal justice system, and it is not yet clear when such programs might end.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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