Tags: culture, discourse/language, knowledge, media, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, science/technology, politics of representation, symbolic representation, stereotypes, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: In this insightful gem of a clip, Thomas Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, interviews world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and asks him to recount the greatest obstacle he has faced while pursuing his career. Tyson begins by mentioning that while his parents were generally supportive of his ambitions, he couldn't necessarily count on the same enthusiasm and support from his peers, who were concerned that he apply his impressive intellect toward a profession that would allow him to advance the cause of the African American community. Specifically, Tyson recounts the story of a black Rhodes scholar in economics, who upon hearing that Tyson's chosen major was physics, replied, "The black community cannot afford the luxury of someone with your intellect to spend it on that subject." Tyson carried this nagging judgement around with him, and then while a graduate student at Columbia University, he was interviewed on air by the local news station regarding a recent explosion on the surface of the sun. Tyson explains in this clip that as he watched himself on television that evening, he realized it was the first time he had ever seen an interview with a black person that had nothing to do with being black. The clip works well as a foray into a broader discussion about what Stuart Hall calls the politics of representation, which draws attention to fact that how one imagines a people to exist in the world—how they are represented in discourse—holds consequences for the power and resources those people are able to control and wield. Neil deGrasse Tyson's story underscores Hall's thinking on the issue. Namely, "events, relations, structures do have conditions of existence and real effects, outside the sphere of the discursive; but that it is only within the discursive...[that] they can be constructed with meaning...how things are represented and the 'machineries' and regimes of representation in a culture do play a constitutive, and not merely a reflexive, after-the-event, role" (444). Thus, Tyson's answer to the Rhode's scholar is that his visible position as a black astrophysicist constitutes an important intervention in the discourse that attempts to construct black men as unqualified for the role of scientific expert.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: class, food/agriculture, health/medicine, inequality, race/ethnicity, rural/urban, food desert, food justice, poverty, racism, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: Poor diets are a result of the structural inequalities that limit access to healthy food, not individual behaviors. Hungry for Health: A Journey through Cleveland’s Food Desert documents a day in the life of Willa Sparks, a woman living without ready access to fresh and affordable food. Instead, she must rely on corner stores, fast food restaurants, and gas stations selling processed and frozen foods. By most accounts, Sparks is a statistic. She lives in an economically deprived and segregated urban area. She is also single and raising a child. However, Sparks is not portrayed as a victim in Hungry For Health. Members of minority groups, including women, are more likely to be in poverty and living in food deserts; thus, they are more likely to suffer from poor health. While residential environments do shape racial health disparities, the film focuses on Sparks’ efforts to combat social inequalities. Denied the fresh vegetables and fruits needed to maintain a healthy diet, Sparks suffers a heart attack and is diagnosed with diabetes. The doctor warns her to change her eating habits or die young. Sparks rises to the challenge learning the nutritional knowledge she lacked and overcoming the first hurdle to accessing fresh foods for her family. Proximity, income, and mobility also influence her accessibility to a healthy diet. Sparks doesn’t own a car and can’t afford a taxi, so she must rely on public transportation to go to the market. At the store, she carefully selects her groceries, spending wisely and shying away from cheaper junk food. Her tight budget forces her to consider her bus pass as part of her daily expenditures. Because she’ll spend time outside waiting for buses and walking to destinations, she must always be prepared for inclement weather. There’s no direct route to the store, so Sparks spends the good part of the day traveling to purchase food before returning home to start preparing it. The process is slowed by her health and poor mobility. She walks with a cane and carries home as many grocery bags as she can lift. Viewers gain both a deeper understanding of food deserts and a new reverence for the people living in them. For more information about the film, please contact the filmmaker at email@example.com.
Submitted By: Mary Barr, PhD
Tags: biology, science/technology, animals, society, 11 to 20 mins
Access: TED Talks
Summary: In this TED talk, Nicolas Perony shows how animal groups have many interacting parts that follow simple individual rules to make up complex societies. He works through examples of dogs humorously moving synchronously, the social network dynamics of bat colonies, and how subordinate and dominant meerkats interact to successfully navigate risky physical space (see also this NYT video on "elephant empathy"). His talk first illustrates an important feature of society: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By working together, individual animals maintain stable social structures that meet the needs of the community and can help a species’ adaptability to their environment. The animals are highly dependent on one another for survival, and often adopt distinct behaviors that enable them to contribute to the whole. The second point is cautionary and comes at the very end of the video. When Perony concludes his presentation, the host joins him on stage and asks him: “Is it okay to do these associations [between animals and humans]? Are there stereotypes … that can be valid across all species?” Perony deftly responds that “there are also counter-examples to these stereotypes. For example, in the seahorses and koalas, these are males that take care of the young—always. The lesson is that it’s often difficult and sometimes dangerous to draw parallels between humans and animals.” Viewers might be urged to consider why such parallels are dangerous. For example, these arguments are often evoked to justify inequalities (e.g. that males dominate women within society, or with the pseudo-science of eugenics), although such parallels have also been used to legitimate equality and social solidarity in human societies (see Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level, especially chapter 14).
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: crime/law/deviance, addiction, drugs, drug decriminalization, labeling theory, portugal, prisons, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: In the US, there has been increasing concern over the war on drugs, including its disastrous effects on society and how the issue of drugs might be approached differently. One alternative approach is drug decriminalization, which Portugal recently implemented. In 1999, almost 1% of Portugal's population were heroin addicts, and they had the highest rate of drug-related AIDS deaths in the EU. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs (i.e., they decriminalized possession but the production and distribution of drugs remained illegal). In this model, drug abuse is treated as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue; their goal is harm reduction for both the individual and society. This video examines social outcomes after 10 years of decriminalization (for related readings, see this New Yorker article and white paper from the Cato Institute): serious drug use declined significantly (especially among youth), the burden on the criminal justice system eased, the number people willingly seeking treatment increased, and drug-related deaths and infectious disease fell. Despite people's fears, Portugal has also NOT become a haven for “drug tourism.” While the system has its critics and difficulties (e.g., enforcing laws prohibiting distribution), support for decriminalization has grown within Portugal with few calling for its repeal. The video also offers an interesting application of labeling theory. Under labeling theory, social control agents are those individuals and institutions which apply symbols/labels (e.g., drug addict) to deviant behavior. Police, social workers, and medical physicians apply such labels to drug users in the video, but meanings assigned through this process of social interaction differ from those applied in the US and other systems of drug control. In this instance, the deviant behavior is viewed as a health problem (rather than a criminal problem), and social control agents promote more conscious and responsible consumption of drugs. The stigma of being labeled a "drug user" has less negative effects on the person being labeled. This illustrates how the label applied does not come from some objective reality, but emerges through a process of social interaction.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: biology, bodies, class, crime/law/deviance, demography/population, disability, discourse/language, gender, health/medicine, immigration/citizenship, intersectionality, lgbtq, nationalism, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, science/technology, sex/sexuality, institutionalized discrimination, eugenics, subtitles/CC, 11 to 20 mins, 21 to 60 mins
Year: 2012; 2013
Length: 15:05; 17:25
Access: YouTube (clip 1; clip 2)
Summary: The eugenics movement has a long history in the United States. A popular misconception is that eugenic thinking and the associated practices were uniformly abandoned after the Third Reich's genocidal intentions were laid bare at the end of the Second World War. In point of fact, eugenic ideologies and practices have been recalcitrant features of American social institutions right up until the present day. In her book American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism, Nancy Ordover remarks on the resiliency of the ideology, "Eugenics..is a scavenger ideology, exploiting and reinforcing anxieties over race, gender, sexuality, and class and bringing them into the service of nationalism, white supremacy, and heterosexism." In earlier decades eugenicists could openly discuss stemming the "overflow" of immigration, as an effort to "dry up...the streams that feed the torrent of defective and degenerate protoplasm." The language of eugenics would eventually change, but the core ideas have remained; socially deviant groups and socially undesirable conditions are seen by eugenicists as biologically determined. The above clips are news stories, which draw attention to two recent manifestations of eugenics policy. The first clip chronicles the experience of an African American woman who was legally sterilized in the late 1960s in North Carolina after giving birth to her first son. The clip reports that between 1929 and 1974 approximately 7,600 North Carolinians were sterilized for a host of dubious reasons, from "feeble-mindedness" to "promiscuity." But while North Carolina's victims included men, women, and children, Ordover's research points out that the victims were overwhelmingly women and African American (by 1964 African Americans composed 65% of all women sterilized in the state). The first clip, then, is an example of how eugenics became institutionalized with the force of law, but the second news clip examines a case of institutionalized eugenics in California, which existed without the explicit consent of law. In 1909 California became the third state to pass a compulsory sterilization law, allowing prisons and other institutions to sterilize "moral degenerates" and "sexual perverts showing hereditary degeneracy." By 1979, when the law was finally repealed, the state had already sterilized as many as 20,000 people, or about one-third of the total number of such victims throughout the United States. One learns from the news clip that between 2006 and 2010, 148 women were sterilized by doctors who continued to be guided by the precepts of their eugenic ideology.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Tags: emotion/desire, methodology/statistics, qualitative research, vulnerability, 11 to 20 mins
Access: TED Talks
Summary: A “researcher storyteller,” Brené Brown colorfully discusses her experience as a qualitative researcher in this TED Talk. Brown explores the personal and professional journey she's undertaken as a qualitative social science researcher, explaining her revelation that “stories are data with a soul.” Self-depreciating at times, Brown humorously and powerfully outlines her changing research perspective from “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist” to becoming comfortable “lean[ing] into the discomfort of the work.” Specifically, Brown talks about her research on shame and vulnerability, in which she drew upon such methods as interviews, focus groups, and content analysis, accumulating “thousands of pieces of data.” Her methodological choices stemmed directly from her research query, which required her to understand how people give purpose and meaning to their lives. In her discussion, Brown brilliantly displays the vulnerability of doing qualitative work, as the “researcher storyteller” can easily become professionally and personally affected by her findings. I show Brown’s TED Talk to a few different sociology classes, including Introduction to Research Methods, Introduction to Sociology, and Contemporary Social Problems for three reasons. First, Brown’s presentation demonstrates to undergraduates the potential for qualitative methodologies to be fun, creative, non-linear, and profound. Second, the clip shows how social science research can measure—using qualitative methods such as interviews, focus groups, and content analysis—ostensibly tricky “variables” such as wholeheartedness and love. After showing the talk, I have the class discuss “variables” that they are now inspired to sociologically research, via qualitative methods. Finally, Brown validates the potential for social scientists to experience vulnerability when conducting qualitative research; this experience can potentially lead researchers to use their work toward remedying the social problems they study by connecting to their subject matter on an empathetic level.
Submitted By: Beverly M. Pratt
Jose Antonio Vargas talks about immigration reform
Tags: community, discourse/language, immigration/citizenship, marriage/family, assimilation, intermarriage, spatial concentration, 11 to 20 mins
Access: The Washington Post (Part 1 - Part 4)
Summary: At a post office, I recently overheard a Ghanaian child translate the prices for his parents. This was all happening while the Chinese cashier repeatedly yelled out that they needed to pay extra for something or other. The little kid struggled to string together phrases in English, and both the parents and employees seemed relieved when the whole ordeal was over, somehow vaguely proud of the child’s budding communication skills. I see so much of my childhood in that Ghanaian family. Doing the language limbo hits close to home for me, having grown up first generation Latino in California. Translating menu options for my parents and answering the phone when they didn’t recognize the number on our caller ID became standard protocol. Weaving in and out of English and maneuvering through this dizzying dialectical maze is something I still encounter today; and I know I am not alone. In June of this year the US Senate passed an immigration reform bill that promises to provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. The bill's passage also brings up questions of assimilation, which refers to the process of immigrants adapting to their new society. Contrary to an opinion held by many, it is possible to quantify how well immigrants make the transition to their new homes. For instance, sociologists sometimes measure spatial concentration, or the degree to which immigrants live apart from the native-born population. Sociologists also look at the degree to which immigrants socially integrate with native-born folks, irrespective of geographic distance. One way to do this is by examining rates of intermarriage between immigrants and natives. Another way is to examine the degree to which immigrants have access to natives or naturalized citizens. Drawing from The New Immigrant Survey (2003), sociologist Guillermina Jasso and her colleagues recently reported that 72% of immigrants in the United States with legal permanent resident status have ready access to natives or naturalized citizens of the United States. Thinking again about the Ghanian child, one of course can also look at language as a measure of assimilation, but it's important to keep in mind that language is a two-way street. To foster a sense of community, some have argued we must press for assimilation by demanding that new immigrants speak English. What is often lost in these discussions is that native English-speaking Americans can also foster a strong sense of community by embracing the rich immigrant history of the United States and learning a second or third language. It is useful to consider assimilation and the ability of Americans to build community in light of the turbulent history of formal immigration policy. This four-part series from The Washington Post provides a nice discussion of the past 30 years of policy changes.
Submitted By: Sal Ramirez
The 1991 Tailhook scandal exposed the U.S. military's rape culture.
Tags: crime/law/deviance, culture, gender, organizations/occupations/work, prejudice/discrimination, violence, war/military, masculinity, rape, rape culture, sexual assault, sexual harassment, 11 to 20 mins
Access: Retro Report
Summary: Long before two boys from Steubenville High School in Ohio raped a young woman and bragged about it on social media, the U.S. had a rape problem. A recent Centers for Disease Control survey now estimates that in the United States about 1 in 5 women are the victims of rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives, but such national statistics mask what happens within particular institutions. In the U.S. military, 1 in 3 servicewomen are sexually assaulted, and in 2011, 22,800 violent sex crimes were reported. What this means is that military women in combat are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire, and adding insult to injury, the soldiers who commit rape have an estimated 86.5% chance of keeping their crime a secret. They have an even better chance— 92%—of avoiding a court-martial. From the Tailhook scandal in 1991 to the recent arrest of Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski—the chief of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office—the above video from The New York Times tracks the history of sexual assault in the U.S. military. In order to make sense of the prevalence and persistence of such assaults, sociologists argue that we need to face the fact that the problem is entrenched and systemic; the assaults need to be examined as manifestations of rape culture, which refers to "a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women" (Buchwald, et. al). Thus, as reported in the video, when a senior officer dismisses reports of sexual assault at the Tailhook Convention by expressing the belief that, "That's what you get when you go down the hall with a bunch of drunk aviators" (at the 3:20 mark), the officer can be understood as drawing from a repertoire of myths that collectively characterize a rape culture—namely that such assaults are inevitable and perhaps natural. Similarly, when the officer leading the Tailhook investigation remarks that "some of these women were kind of bringing it on themselves" (at 4:30 mark), he is effectively blaming the victims for their assaults. The fact that these remarks were spoken by men with formal and legitimate power is added evidence that the sentiments run deep within the military, but it is also significant that these remarks are somewhat compatible, and taken together, formulate a relatively coherent logic. The video can be used to illustrate a pernicious thread of thinking from the military's rape-cultural repetoire: First, servicewomen who do not learn their places in male-dominated spaces will inevitably be raped, and second, their rape will be no one's fault but their own. On this score, Germaine Greer's famous observation has a certain resonance: "Women have very little idea how much men hate them." (Note that The Sociological Cinema also takes up the concept of a rape culture here, here, here, here, and here)
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
This scene emphasizes the importance of consent.
Tags: children/youth, foucault, gender, sex/sexuality, theory, violence, rape, sexual consent, sexual violence, subtitles/CC, 11 to 20 mins
Access: Fáðu já (English subtitles available)
Summary: [Trigger Warning: This film includes scenes depicting and discussing rape and sexual violence.] Fáðu Já! (“Get a Yes!”) is an educational film from Iceland on sexual consent. The film functions on two levels: 1) it analyzes, and is a good way to initiate discussions on, sexual relationships and violence; and 2) it offers an illustration about cultural differences in the public discourse about sex education and sexual violence. First, sometimes with humor and sometimes with sobering seriousness, the film addresses a number of issues about sexual relationships and is aimed at teenagers. Topics include: the dangers of learning about sex from porn or music videos; the fundamental importance of getting consent from one's sexual partner; acknowledgement of the positive dimensions and frequent awkwardness of sexual activity; knowing sexual boundaries; the definition of rape; and the prevalence and dangers of sexual violence. Second, the film is an interesting illustration of cultural differences around public discourses of sex. Many viewers (especially American viewers) may be surprised to know that this film was shown to teenagers in all schools across Iceland on January 30th, 2013. As noted in this review, the film "is part of a government-sponsored awareness initiative that is focused on violent crimes of a sexual nature against children." It had the support of Iceland's Ministry of Education, Ministry of Welfare, and the Ministry Internal Affairs, with the purpose of developing "preventative material regarding sexual violence." According to an interview with one of the film's creators, "The response was overwhelming. The project got a whole lot of media attention and was featured on pretty much every talk show in the country. The reporters and journalists ... all interviewed us, more or less. The reviews were extremely positive and I barely heard any negative feedback. Some of the older, ‘cooler’ teenagers said that it was obviously made for the younger kids – but we think the film is for everyone who has ever reached puberty." Finally, the video is theoretically interesting from the perspective of Foucault, who in The History of Sexuality (1978), links discourses of sexuality to power. On the one hand, the video was shaped by official ministries and is tied to expert knowledge, and it clearly links positive sexual activity to relationships of love. On the other hand, and contrary to discourses that shame adolescent sexuality or characterize it as unnatural (Foucault 1978: 104), the video acknowledges its positive dimensions. The video also does not explicitly define acceptable forms of sexuality (at least not beyond consensual sex associated with love), thereby partially decentering this conversation by encouraging viewers to know and create their own boundaries. Furthermore, from a feminist perspective, the film can be seen as empowering victims of sexual assault. (Note: when showing this video in the US, instructors may want to provide the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1.800.656.HOPE)
Submitted By: Anonymous
More emotional satisfaction brings less institutional stability.
Tags: emotion/desire, marriage/family, divorce, love, marital satisfaction, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: When teaching about social institutions, sociology instructors often aim to illustrate the ways in which, paradoxically, institutions are both rigid and changing over time. This includes the institution of marriage. The recent Supreme Court decision to federally recognize same-sex marriage offers a very clear, timely, and high-profile example of the changing nature of the institution. Students might not, however, see as readily the ways in which heterosexual marriages have also changed dramatically over time. In this video, Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies, illustrates how marrying for love is a radical and very modern idea, first appearing in the late 18th century. Coontz points to two paradoxes that emerged once love played a role in marriage; both have to do with the stability of the institution. First, she shows that the very things that have made marriage as a love relationship more rewarding, have made marriage as an institution less stable. Today, marriage has the opportunity to be more loving than ever, but if it doesn't work out that way, it seems less tolerable. Second, the strongest emotions are not necessarily the ones that sustain the most satisfying relationships. She goes on to discuss research on marriage stability and marriage satisfaction. While this video, as well as the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage, highlight the changing nature of the institution, viewers can be encouraged to think about the ways in which the institution of marriage remains quite rigid. How does this rigidity continue to structure behavior? Further, viewers can be encouraged to think about how increased emotional satisfaction in marriage has come at the expense of institutional stability. What are the societal costs and benefits of such an arrangement? This lecture is pulled from the arguments Coontz (2005) makes in her book, Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
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