The Internet is an important tool for shaping knowledge about race
Tags: knowledge, media, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, internet, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video, created by sociologist Jessie Daniels, explores how race is depicted on the Internet. It begins by arguing that how we think about the Internet is a utopian vision where "this is no race, there are no genders, there is no age ... there are only minds" (quoting from an MCI commercial). But as Daniels notes, "the reality is different. Rather than a 'raceless' utopia in the US today, hate groups are on the rise." The video illustrates quantitative data showing the rise of hate groups, and questions how this might be related to the Internet? Contrary to popular belief, Daniels argues the issue is not with people using the Internet to "recruit" people into hate groups; instead, the issue is how the Internet shapes knowledge and how people perceive realities of race. Everyday people use the Internet to spread racist messages. They create content themselves and share it with friends, normalizing common stereotypes. For example, the video documents "The Funny Racist" on Twitter with over 366,000 followers. She notes that one of the top searches for Martin Luther King, Jr, is a cloaked site that appears legitimate but was created by Storm Front, one of the largest hate groups online. Daniels argues the danger of this new medium is not its capacity to recruit people into hate organizations but through shaping knowledge, such as people's understanding of slavery or civil rights leaders. She argues we need more than "Internet literacy" but also "racial Internet literacy." Viewers may reflect on why Daniels argues that racism is built into the Internet? How does the Internet create new opportunities for promoting racism, and does this reflect the idealist notions we often associate with the Internet and "free information"?
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: discourse/language, knowledge, media, war/military, ideology, noam chomsky, propaganda model, representation, 06 to 10 mins
Length: 6:09; 3:41
Access: clip 1; clip 2
Summary: Strike up a conversation with a crowd of students about the media and odds are you will encounter a deep-seated suspicion that even in democratic political systems propaganda exists. Many people believe the media powerfully shape the public's vision of the world; yet when pressed, few are able to pinpoint whose view is being propagandized. Thus the public is suspicious, but divided on where to direct its suspicion. Fewer still are in agreement as to how the media most effectively succeeds in shaping public knowledge. In their book Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky famously proposed a propaganda model, which argues that government entities and powerful businesses are able to control the information the media reports through five kinds of filters: 1) ownership (i.e., media outlets filter information that is incompatible with the interests of their parent companies); 2) advertising (i.e., advertisers pressure the media to filter information that is incompatible with the advertiser's interests); 3) sourcing (i.e., the media are dependent on government and major corporations for news bulletins, and these sources filter the information they share); 4) flak (i.e., the government and major corporations are able to pressure media outlets to filter information); and 5) anticommunist ideology (i.e., the media is influenced by dominant ideologies and filters information to align with ideology). In the first clip above, Norman Solomon, founder of the Institute for Public Accuracy, echoes this propaganda model. For instance, at the 2:35 mark, Solomon describes Herman and Chomsky's sourcing filter when he notes that journalists must take their cue from government organizations as to what is even worth mentioning. Lest students get the impression that propaganda is simply a matter of information either being "filtered" or reported, the second clip explores the way euphemism is deployed to cover up unpleasant events or avoid discussing events that reveal powerful actors, such as the state, in an unflattering light. William Lutz describes this use of euphemism in his influential essay "The World of Doublespeak," where he notes that in 1984 the U.S. State Department announced it would no longer use the word "killing" in its reports and would opt instead for the phrase "unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of life." Note that this is the second post on The Sociological Cinema to take up the topic of contemporary propaganda.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Julia Roberts acquires cultural capital in Pretty Woman
Tags: class, culture, inequality, knowledge, theory, bourdieu, cultural capital, economic capital, social capital, symbolic capital, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video clip combines two scenes from the film Pretty Woman (1990). In the first scene, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), a working class sex worker, is given dinner etiquette lessons from a newly befriended hotel manager in preparation for a fancy dinner she is attending with Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), a rich business man who has hired Vivian to attend social events with him throughout the week. The second scene depicts Vivian at dinner with Edward and his business affiliates, trying to apply her recently acquired etiquette knowledge. Taken together, these scenes are useful for illustrating various dimensions of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's understanding of capital. For Bourdieu, capital refers to goods or resources, and he distinguishes between four different types of capital. Economic capital refers to money, property, and other assets. Social capital refers to networks of influence or support based on group membership (such as family), friends, or other contacts. Cultural capital refers to forms of knowledge, educational credentials, and skills. Symbolic capital refers to socially recognized legitimization such as prestige or honor. Bourdieu links these various forms of capital by illustrating how social, cultural, and symbolic capital convert back into economic capital. The film clip from Pretty Woman is useful for discussing and distinguishing among all four types of capital. Vivian's lesson in dinner etiquette, such as knowledge about which fork to use at dinner, illustrates cultural capital. Edward's relationship with his business affiliates illustrates social capital, and his ability to afford an expensive setting for his business meeting (not to mention hiring a person to accompany him all week to social events) illustrates his economic capital. Bourdieu's concept of symbolic capital is more difficult to grasp, and it's closely related to cultural and social capital. However, viewers might consider the ways in which Vivian lacks symbolic capital, as sex work is socially stigmatized and associated with the loss or absence of prestige or honor. Indeed, throughout the film Vivian is frequently looked down upon by others—such as hotel staff, boutique salespeople, and the young businessman depicted in this clip—who suspect she is a sex worker. Consistent with Bourdieu's theory, viewers might consider examples of how social, cultural, and symbolic capital can convert back into economic capital, and therefore maintain class inequality.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: education, inequality, knowledge, race/ethnicity, meritocracy, standardized testing, 21 to 60 mins
Access: no online access; transcript
Summary: This PBS Frontline documentary is an excellent compliment to any classroom discussion on the sociology of education, inequality, and presumed notions of American meritocracy; specifically, the film would pair well with Mickelson and Smith's article, "Can Education Eliminate Race, Class, and Gender Inequality?" The film's website provides the following synopsis: "Just days before hundreds of thousands of high school students take the SAT--a three-hour college entrance exam that tests verbal and math skills--FRONTLINE's Secrets of the SAT examines the national obsession over the SAT and the controversy over its fairness, reliability and impact on racial diversity on campus. This report draws on the work of Nicholas Lemann and his five-year study of the SAT--The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocacy. Lemann discusses the origins of the SAT, the idea of an American meritocracy (an idea that goes back to correspondance between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams), and how the SAT today has become a ticket into America's ruling class. To discover just how important SAT scores are to a student's future, FRONTLINE looks at the booming test prep business which offers test preparation courses for students as young as 13 and 14. FRONTLINE's cameras also follow seven students who are applying to the University of California, Berkeley, the country's most selective public university, and go inside the admissions process at Berkeley where those seven students are competing with 31,000 others for 3,500 spots. Berkeley's director of admissions, Bob Laird, explains how Berkeley is shifting away from test numbers and towards a more rounded evaluation of applicants. However, since California's Proposition 209 was passed in 1996, the university cannot consider race in the admissions process. Consequently, the numbers of minority students who get into Berkeley has dropped sharply because black and Hispanic students test scores are 100-200 points lower than whites and Asians. How then can Berkeley encourage diversity on its campus without violating the law? FRONTLINE explores the debate over race sensitive admission policies in interviews with Derek Bok and William Bowen, former presidents, respectively, of Harvard and Princeton University, who conducted a 30-year study of race sensitive admission policies which shows their positive effect. FRONTLINE also interviews educators John Yoo and Abigail Thernstrom who argue for race neutral admissions. Secrets of the SAT also takes a closer look at the black-white test score gap which though large, eludes easy explanation. Psychology professor Claude Steele at Stanford University explains how his research may partly explain the disparity. His studies focused on the way good students do poorly on tests because they suffer from negative stereotypes about their abilities. And then there is the issue of what exactly does the SAT measure and, does it correlate with I.Q.? Test prep experts John Katzman, founder of Princeton Review and Jonathan Grayer, head of Kaplan Educational Centers, as well as law professor Lani Guinier, analyze and debate the reliability of standardized tests like the SAT and their predictive ability for success later in life. And Robert Sternberg, a researcher on human intelligence, argues for broadening the definition of intelligence and creating new tools to measure it. This report ends with news on which of the seven students FRONTLINE followed won admission to Berkeley. Did some of these students' low SAT scores affect Berkeley's decision to admit them or not?" The film's website provides additional resources, including a teacher's guide and information for how to purchase the film. You can also see if the film is available at your local or university library.
I would like to thank Dr. Linda Moghadam for suggesting this video.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: class, consumption/consumerism, culture, economic sociology, knowledge, social construction, theory, aesthetic, bourdieu, elite, seinfeld, taste, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In his often densely worded prose, Bourdieu discusses how those in power define aesthetic concepts such as taste. Referring to surveys of French citizens from different economic and educational backgrounds, he shows how social class tends to determine a person's likes and interests, and how distinctions based on social class get reinforced in daily life. He observes that even when the subordinate classes may seem to have their own particular idea of good taste, "the working-class 'aesthetic' is a dominated 'aesthetic' which is constantly obliged to define itself in terms of the dominant aesthetics..." In this clip, a wealthy businessman (Elaine's boss) is observed eating a candy bar using a knife and fork. Elaine tells her friends about this unusual behavior, but George sees it as being "proper" or culturally polished. He later eats his candy bar the same way in a public place. As more people see this behavior, more people begin practicing the behavior. This spreading cultural practice illustrates how the society, and conceptions of proper behaviors, are shaped and dominated by the social elite.
Submitted By: Julie C.
Scene from "The Cave: An Adaptation of Plato’s Allegory in Clay"
Tags: knowledge, social construction, theory, allegory of the cave, karl mannheim, peter berger, plato, social construction of reality, thomas luckmann, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This award-winning short claymation film is an adaptation of Plato's Allegory of the Cave and can be used to teach core concepts from the sociology of knowledge, including the social construction of reality. The Allegory of the Cave, presented in Plato's Republic, tells the story of prisoners trapped in a cave who can only see shadows casted on the wall in front of them. Plato's story is a commentary on the human condition, in which he suggests that humans are trapped in a material world, interpreting illusions and shadows to be reality. Plato's theory shares similarities with ideas presented in Berger and Luckmann's (1966) The Social Construction of Reality, specifically that our perception of reality is shaped by our social and physical location. In this way, reality is not absolute, and what we understand to be "real" is actually a social construct. To deepen the discussion, instructors might also screen or assign the following two instructional videos: the first provides details about Plato's Allegory of the Cave and the second explains Plato's Theory of Forms. As shown in the first video, when one of the prisoners is exposed to the sun of the outside world, Plato believes he no longer inhabits a world of illusions and shadows. Similar to the abilities of the philosopher, the prisoner can now see the world for what it is. Instructors can distinguish this feature of Plato's Allegory from Berger and Luckmann's theory, highlighting that Berger and Luckmann would contest this point, as there is no one reality. Similar to the relativist critique of Plato's Theory of Forms (discussed here at minute mark 2:09), a social constructionist perspective argues that reality is based on social agreement, and does not exist outside of the mind. These clips can be used to teach other ideas from the sociology of knowledge, such as Mannheim's (1929) argument about the role of intellectuals in society, presented in Ideology and Utopia. Instructors can compare and contrast Mannheim's arguments to Plato's claim that, because of their privileged ability to see the world for what it "really" is, philosophers are best positioned to rule society (discussed here at minute mark 6:55). To learn more about this clay animation film, how it was made, and the awards it has won, click here.
Submitted By: Murali Shanmugavelan
Reverend Dr. William J. Barber
Tags: crime/law/deviance, discourse/language, inequality, intersectionality, knowledge, lgbtq, marriage/family, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, sex/sexuality, social mvmts/social change/resistance, theory, civil unions, collective action frames, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In Part I we explored the concept of a collective action frame in the context of the vote on North Carolina's Amendment One, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Reverend Dr. William J. Barber argues in this clip that the amendment passed because the wrong frame dominated the public understanding of the issue. In Part II we want to further interrogate Barber's own frame, which posits that the amendment writes discrimination into the state constitution. We think Barber’s argument draws on key insights from intersectionality theory in sociology. In short, this theory draws attention to the relationships among multiple dimensions of social inequality (e.g., race, sexuality, gender, etc.) and insists that the formation of any subject happens at the intersections of these dimensions. Similarly, systems of domination, such as racism and heterosexism, work through this invisible, intersectional scaffolding. Echoing an insight from Kimberlé Crenshaw's path breaking article on the theory, the failure of antiracism to interrogate heterosexism means that antiracist activists are doomed to reproduce the subordination of racial minorities in the LGBTQ community. Indeed, this is what might very well have happened in North Carolina. In the lead up to the vote on Amendment One, it is now clear that there was a coordinated strategy from a political group calling itself the National Organization for Marriage. The group aimed to drive a wedge between members of LGBTQ and Black communities (here and here). Recently unsealed memos from the group state clearly that “The strategic goal of the project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks” and another memo noted the group's aspirations to make the exclusion of gay people from marriage “a key badge of Latino identity.” Barber's frame, then, grasps the way racial and sexual identities were strategically pitted against each other in the vote on Amendment One, but his frame also grasps that violations of equal protection under the law for members of the LGBTQ community in this instance, leaves the door open for violations against racial minorities in the next. As illustrated in this moving speech, intersectionality theory, not only describes how political power relies on manipulating social constructed racial and sexual identities, but also how political resistance must take these constructs into account when formulating effective collective action frames.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Reverend Dr. William J. Barber
Tags: crime/law/deviance, discourse/language, goffman, government/the state, inequality, knowledge, lgbtq, prejudice/discrimination, social mvmts/social change/resistance, theory, civil unions, collective action frames, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In previous posts on The Sociological Cinema, we have explored Erving Goffman's concept of framing (here, here, and here). To recap, the concept has been useful for scholars of social movements, who have rebranded the term collective action framing. The concept denotes the active and processual sense-making and signification of phenomena done by social actors. In other words, the realization that a conflict with police is evidence of a repressive state and that the passage of a new law is an effort to codify division and discrimination are socially "made" interpretations or meanings. They are the social achievements sociologists refer to as frames. The success then of passing a new law or amending an old one often hinges on how the proposed change is framed for the public and how influential that particular frame is in shaping the terms of the debate. The above clip is a speech from Reverend Dr. William J. Barber. who rebukes the media for using the "wrong" frame to report on the recent amendment to North Carolina's state constitution, which passed on May 8, 2012 and defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The amendment also bans any other type of "domestic legal union," such as civil unions and domestic partnerships. Barber asserts that the media frequently polled the public asking, "How do you feel about same-sex marriage?" but a better question—a better frame—would have been whether a majority should be able to decide on the rights of a minority, or should discrimination should be written into the constitution? Here Barber is clearly attempting to key the struggle against Amendment One to the protests of the Civil Rights Era, and he even mentions the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by name. In Part II, we'll move beyond framing and explore how this video can be used to illustrate insights from intersectionality theory, a theory that offers promise in overcoming the divisions of identity politics.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Barak Obama speaks at a rally to promote diversity
Tags: discourse/language, knowledge, media, politics/election/voting, race/ethnicity, theory, derrick bell, critical race theory, fear, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: In the Academy Award-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine, filmmaker Michael Moore highlights, among other things, the ways in which fear—and specifically white fear of black men—is manufactured through the American media (e.g., here). Moore places the history of American gun policy and gun violence within this context. This American tendency to invent fear using racial justifications is also a useful framework for contextualizing the "controversy" over the video footage released in March 2012 that depicted then-law student Barak Obama introducing law professor Derrick Bell at a rally to promote diversity among Harvard faculty (Professor Bell was the first tenured African-American Professor of Law at Harvard Law School). The conservative group Breitbart.com used the video as evidence of Obama's support of critical race theory (CRT), an intellectual project developed by Bell and others to illustrate the intersection of race, law, and power, and the ways in which American institutions are fundamentally organized by racialized power structures that disadvantage people of color. CRT is rooted in a tradition of social justice. While much buzz surrounded the story, this particular video clip is useful for highlighting how the racialized politics of fear gets used to shape American discourse and ideology (as well as discredit knowledge). Viewers can watch the invention of fear unfolding before their very eyes, bearing witness to the myriad of ways the more-or-less innocuous footage is described as a "bombshell," the likening of Bell to Rev. Jeremiah Wright (another black man who was successfully deemed radical and worthy of fear), and how Obama "forced" his students to read Bell at the University of Chicago. The racial politics of fear is explicitly evoked at the 6:27 minute mark. As the November elections draw near, viewers can be encouraged to look out for similar projects around the invention of fear unfold, particularly around Obama's race.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
_Tags: consumption/consumerism, discourse/language, gender, inequality, knowledge, marketing/brands, media, social construction, feminism, glass ceiling, glass escalator, media literacy, representation, role specialization, sexism, stereotypes, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: We all work in an economy marked by occupational sex segregation. That is, men and women typically work in different occupations. American Men, for instance, are overrepresented as auto mechanics and airline pilots, while American women are overrepresented as preschool teachers and nurses. But why is occupational sex segregation a problem? When I bring this issue up in class, my students often counter rather quickly that segregation is merely the result of a gendered role specialization and doesn't inherently denote inequality. However, the fact is that men segregate into higher paid professions than women. Also, while women often report experiencing a glass ceiling, which refers to an invisible barrier to promotion, men who take positions in fields dominated by women report just the opposite. They face a glass escalator, or pressure to move up in their chosen professions (Williams 1992). In short, occupational sex segregation is a bad deal for women. It is less about role specialization and more about men retaining power and resources for the benefit of men. But why is occupational sex segregation so recalcitrant? Check out the commercial above from Best Buy, which aired during Super Bowl 46, and note the natural affinity it depicts between men (read, male logic) and technological innovation. In rapid succession, the viewer encounters distinguished, white men holding their high tech inventions. "I created text messaging," says SMS innovator, Neil Papworth. Only at the end of the thirty-second spot do women appear, and they are Best Buy's relatively low status sales representatives. Elsewhere on this site (here), I have argued that the symbolic domain of high tech is almost the exclusive provenance of men, and while men are overrepresented in ads that pitch items like smart phones and iPads, women are overrepresented in ads that pitch “domestic” technologies, or those that pertain to, say, cooking and other household chores (see here, here, and here). Insofar as the Best Buy ad succeeds, the approximately 100 million people who tune into the Super Bowl, will be persuaded that Best Buy is good place to buy a smart phone, but they are also left with an impression of the world they inhabit. "Why does occupational sex segregation persist?" my students ask. An important part of the answer is that advertisements reinforce the fiction of immutable differences between men and women, and by extension, they suggest that men and women naturally gravitate toward different occupations. The Best Buy commercial can be a useful reminder that advertising is a medium that excels at constructing the reality it claims to merely reflect. What is "natural" is itself a social construction.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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