A 1936 Home Owners' Loan Corp. security map of Philadelphia
Tags: inequality, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, rural/urban, affirmative action, housing discrimination, institutional discrimination, racial steering, racism, redlining, stratification, subtitles/CC, 06 to 10 mins
Length: 6:05; 3:27
Year: 2003; 2010
Access: YouTube (clip 1; clip 2)
Summary: Institutional discrimination occurs where the practices and policies of an institution systematically benefit one group at the expense of another. The concept relies on the insight that individuals act and make decisions within an institutional context, and that even where explicit racism is difficult to identify, the rules, norms, and common sense associated with institutions may lead individuals—even well-meaning ones—to systematically deny opportunities and equal rights to minorities. When trying to explain the topic of institutional racism, it is useful to recall the history of redlining in the United States, which refers to the practice of appraising real estate differently based on the racial makeup of the communities within which the real estate sits. The first clip above comes from the documentary, Race: The Power of an Illusion, and features a concise explanation of the practice. Sociologist Melvin Oliver explains that "those communities that were all white, suburban, and far away from minority areas, they received the highest rating (from federal investigators of the National Appraisal System), and that was the color green. Those communities that were all minority, or in the process of changing, they got the lowest rating and the color red. They were redlined." Redlining is a form of institutional discrimination because the institutional mechanism of differentially valuing property based on race actually patterns the way individuals act. In other words, whites come to perceive a financial interest in keeping people of color out of predominantly white neighborhoods, and with the reasonable assumption that white neighbors may not be welcoming, people of color may avoid looking for homes in white neighborhoods from the very start. In yet another example of the way institutions pattern discriminatory behavior, real estate agents have been observed steering African American couples from white neighborhoods, as is dramatized in the second clip posted above. Thus to a naïve observer who imagines discrimination and racism to simply be a matter of individual grievances and irrational choices, it may appear that people have simply chosen to live among others of the same race, but in fact, this self-segregating behavior is the result of an institutional context. (Note that this is the second post on The Sociological Cinema that features a clip from Race: The Power of an Illusion).
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Johnny and George look for a piece of the "American Dream."
Tags: children/youth, class, economic sociology, immigration/citizenship, inequality, rural/urban, american dream, class mobility, inner-city, poverty, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: This video from The Boston Globe tells the story of two young brothers trying to overcome difficult barriers to achieve the "American Dream" (read associated article here). Johnny and George live in Dorchester, MA, a Boston crime and poverty "hot spot." In addition to their economic issues, they face many family challenges (e.g. their father committed suicide 3 years ago, and their mother has a disability preventing her from working outside of the home). As the older brother notes, the most challenging thing is probably "living every day without our dad and with a single parent, who can barely afford to give us any of the resources we need." But while people in such neighborhoods are often depicted as being hopeless, Johnny and George are very hopeful and seek a better life. They work hard to achieve grades at the top of their classes, earn their own spending money through tutoring, and have received help from a local mentor and non-profit organizations. Viewers might reflect on how Johnny and George's story reflects the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" ideology of the American, but that everyone needs help to do so. Despite their challenges, they see themselves as more fortunate than many others. How does the class structure shape an individual's ability to live a successful life, and what types of social and economic resources are necessary to help those less fortunate in attaining it? What is the effect of this ideology on society? Given that the boys are Vietnamese, viewers should also be cautioned away from explaining their situation with the "model minority" myth, which obscures the struggles of many impoverished Asian immigrants. Viewers may also be interested in this documentary on social class, the challenges of living on minimum wage, and George Carlin's critique of the American Dream.
Image by Yoon S. Byun/Boston Globe
Submitted By: Cathryn Brubaker, PhD
Tags: demography/population, environment, food/agriculture, globalization, inequality, rural/urban, anthropocene, great acceleration, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In sparkling electric blue, this narrated visualization illustrates the impact humans have had on the Earth's ecosystems from the time of the industrial revolution to the present. Referring to a new geological epoch, the narrator boldly announces, "Welcome to the anthropocene." The anthropocene is marked by the decisive role humans now play in shaping the state, dynamics and future of the Earth system. Among other indicators, scientists point out that anthropogenic processes now account for more sediment transport than natural processes, such as the erosion from rivers. Humans have also measurably altered the composition of the atmosphere, oceans, and soils, as well as the cycles associated with elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. The more than seven billion of us who currently reside on the planet now breath a chemically altered atmosphere of our own making, and we are witnessing the spread of oceanic dead zones. From a sociological standpoint, the adjective "anthropogenic," which simply denotes something that is produced by humans, is imprecise. It is not the mere presence of billions of homo sapiens which has altered the Earth's systems; rather, it is the way homo sapiens interact with the Earth's systems—our social processes. The clip works well as a way to enter into a discussion about environmental sociology. Specifically, one could easily draw on it to highlight the tension between understanding how changes in the environment get framed as problems by scientists, media, and other social actors, and how certain environmental changes have a real ontological status, irrespective of that framing.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
7 billion: how your world will change
Tags: demography/population, globalization, inequality, rural/urban, thomas robert malthus, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This clip, although made in 2010, examines the world as we hit a global population of 7 billion people (October 2011). Topics explored in the video include the impact of having 7 billion inhabitants living on the globe, the increasing length of the human life span, the unbalanced human consumption of scarce resources, and unequal living conditions. I include this video in my lecture on stratification, specifically in reference to Malthus's view of favoring inequality as a form of population control. It also can be used when covering demographics. The clip was created by National Geographic magazine as part of their 2011 year-long series on world population; additional resources are available on their website. Click here for another clip on The Sociological Cinema that contextualizes issues of global population and inequality.
Submitted By: Rachel Sparkman
Duneier's research on NYC book vendors is presented in film.
Tags: class, community, crime/law/deviance, inequality, intersectionality, methodology/statistics, organizations/occupations/work, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, rural/urban, ethnography, homelessness, urban poverty, visual sociology, 21 to 60 mins
Length: 60:00 (film)
Access: Film (part 1; part 2; part 3)
Discussion (part 4; part 5; part 6; part 7; part 8)
Summary: This documentary, directed by Barry Alexander Brown, is based on the ethnographic fieldwork that sociologist Mitchell Duneier conducted for his seminal book, Sidewalk (1999). Framed in the film's introduction as an "epilogue" to the book, Brown offers a plot summary: "SIDEWALK chronicles the lives of primarily black homeless book vendors and magazine scavengers who ply their trade along 6th Avenue between 8th Street and Washington Place in New York City. By briefly comparing those book vendors with the history of book vending along the Seine in Paris, the film speaks to the efforts of North American and European societies to rid public space of the outcasts they have had a hand in producing. The film takes us into the social world of the people subsisting on the streets of New York by focusing on their work as street side booksellers, magazine vendors, junk dealers, panhandlers, and table watchers. The sidewalk becomes a site for the unfolding of these people living on the edge of society in order to give us a deeper understanding of how these individual's are able to survive. It also becomes a site for conflicts and solidarities that encompass the vendors and local residents. We followed half dozen vendors for most of this past decade. By the end of shooting the film, their lives had taken a myriad of routes..." Like other urban ethnographic films (e.g., here), Sidewalk would be excellent to show in an urban sociology course, as well as an introductory sociology class, as it engages core sociological concerns around race, poverty, homelessness, underground economies, interactions with police, and community support networks, among others. Ethnography professors might also find the film useful—the film opens with several screens of written text, describing the film as a "set of fieldnotes." There is also discussion of the film available online. One of these discussions entails Duneier's introductory lecture on ethnographic methods, in which two sidewalk vendors visit his class. Here Duneier presents his approach to doing ethnography, particularly within the context and medium of film. The other is a panel discussion about the film with Cornel West and Kim Hopper at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: class, community, crime/law/deviance, inequality, intersectionality, methodology/statistics, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, rural/urban, ethnography, gentrification, housing, urban poverty, visual sociology, 21 to 60 mins
Access: no online access
Summary: Directed by sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, this documentary film is based on ethnographic field research conducted by Venkatesh at the (now demolished) Robert Taylor Homes public housing development in Chicago, IL. A description of the film is provided on the film's website: "In February 2002, families living in the Robert Taylor Homes public housing development were given a 180 day notice of eviction. In six months, the community that had been their home for generations would be demolished. DISLOCATION chronicles the lives of tenants in one building as they move through the six-month relocation process. The filmmakers follow three families as they prepare for their own move and as they help others around them. DISLOCATION is a story of a community coping with its own impending demise. It is a tale of courage, hope, and survival." This film is an ideal compliment to most topics covered in an urban sociology course, which include discussions of gentrification, urban poverty, racism, underground economies, community and family support networks, police interactions, and much more. The ideas explored in the film are expanded in more detail in Venkatesh's books, American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto (2000) and Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets (2008), which are based on the same ethnographic field research. The film (and books) would also be excellent to use in an ethnography course, and could help guide class discussions around written vs. visual ethnographies, and the (subjective) role of the ethnographer and her relationship to her research subjects. To gain access to the film, check out your university library or you can find purchasing information here.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: community, prejudice/discrimination, rural/urban, activism, affordable housing, documentary research methods, homelessness, 21 to 60 mins
Access: STREATS TV
Summary: This episode of STREATS TV portrays an insider's point-of-view on many of the day-to-day realities and struggles facing homeless people, struggles that non-homeless people largely take for granted, which include access to transportation options, safe places to sleep, locations to shower, and places to use the restroom when you "gotta go." Putting a human face on homelessness, this video was created, filmed, acted, and directed by people who are or recently were homeless, focusing on the homeless community in Washington, DC. Other topics discussed include challenges involved in accessing social services, managing public perceptions of the homeless, and issues of activism and community-building among the homeless. This clip would be useful to show students in a social problems class, particularly during lessons on homelessness, affordable housing, urban gentrification/community displacement, welfare policies and our social safety net, among others. Moreover, the clip might be useful to use as a template for a class assignment in which students are required to create a DIY video project highlighting a social issue of concern.
Submitted By: Ralph ("Spirit Man") Dantley and Valerie Chepp
Tags: community, methodology/statistics, rural/urban, community studies, digital storytelling, resource-dependent communities, rural sociology
Access: National Film Board of Canada
Summary: "Welcome to Pine Point" has all the elements of a classic sociological community study: It is set in a single-industry town. It lets us peek into the lives of four archetypical characters. And, perhaps most importantly, it is set in a real live place that no longer exists. Built in the 1960s and closed down and razed a little over twenty years later, Pine Point, like Middletown and Cornerville before it (see Robert and Helen Lynd's "Middletown" and "Middletown in Transition" and William Foote Whyte's "Street Corner Society"), is no longer locatable on a map, but lives in the memories and yellowed round-cornered photos of its residents. This interactive website, complete with moving images, text, and interactive features, would be an ideal resource for students to engage in an out-of-class and/or group assignment, and would work well in a rural sociology or sociological methods class.
Submitted By: Audrey Sprenger
Tags: community, methodology/statistics, rural/urban, appalachia, ethnography, poverty, rural sociology, 21 to 60 mins
Access: no online access, PBS trailer
Summary: "Stranger With A Camera" lays bare the literal and figurative differences between being a sociologist versus being a sociological subject, as well as who counts as an "insider" versus an "outsider" in a small community. Set in the mountains of Central Appalachia, an iconic field site and setting for many twentieth century social scientists and documentary-makers, it tells the story of Canadian filmmaker Hugh O'Conner and how in the summer of 1967, Hobart Ison, a local landlord, angry about O'Conner's presence on his property, (as well as media representations of Appalachia in general), shot and killed O'Conner. Produced with great methodological insight and raw sensitivity by Director Elizabeth Barret and Editor Lucy Massie Phenix, two women with close relationships to the film's setting, (Barret was born, raised and still lives in Central Appalachia, Phenix is from Kentucky), "Stranger" brings into focus then blurs again many of the gray areas which emerge not only with regards to questions about what is right and what is wrong with the practice of social science, but also the everyday ways members of a community come together and interact with one another, particularly when there is a stranger with a camera around. When Ison's violent act finally came to trial it was, in many ways, excused by his neighbors. Though it is difficult to tell whether their support was an act of local solidarity since many of them, (including the coal miner O'Conner was trying to get a photograph of when he was instantly killed by Ison's deadly shot), were not only Ison's confreres and kin, but also, his tenants. Still, in the end there truly is a difference, "Stranger" teaches us, between living in a place versus simply passing through, even when we care about or even love it so much we want to document it -- like O'Conner (and, now, Barret and Phenix) did Ison's home town.
Submitted By: Audrey Sprenger
Tags: children/youth, class, education, inequality, intersectionality, race/ethnicity, rural/urban, schools, suburban, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: An eye-opening experiment highlighting the inequalities between city and suburban schools. Students from both schools switch places for the day. Segment from The Oprah Show.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
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