Tags: gender, inequality, marketing/brands, social construction, socialization, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This hilarious and poignant commentary by comedian Ellen DeGeneres is perfect when introducing—and critiquing—the social construction of gender in an Introduction to Sociology or Contemporary Social Problems course. The clip shows Degeneres comically critiquing Bic’s production of a pen "designed especially for women," made in pink and purple to “fit a woman’s hand.” There are many great lines in her shtick, including this one chocked full of sarcastic analysis: “I was reading the back of the package, well, I had a man read the back of the package to me, and it said it’s designed to fit a woman’s hand…What does that mean? So that when we’re taking down dictation from our bosses we’ll feel comfortable and we’ll forget we’re not getting paid as much?…Just think over the last 20 years, companies have made millions of dollars for pills that grow men’s hair and fix men’s sex lives, and now ladies have a pen. We’ve come a long way baby!” This clip offers multiple ways to facilitate a discussion about sexism and the social construction of gender. For example, Degeneres draws attention to gender and socialized color preferences, the higher cost of women’s products and services compared to men’s, occupational sex segregation and wage inequality, gender stereotypes (e.g., grocery shopping, cooking, mood swings, etc.), and gendered investments in research for “life improvements” (e.g., products for sexual satisfaction and hair growth). One way to initiate conversation is to ask students: What makes Degeneres's characterization of these subjects humorous?
Submitted By: Beverly M. Pratt
Mormons are questioning if their religion was created by society.
Tags: culture, durkheim, religion, social construction, theory, integration, mormonism, 00 to 05 mins
Access: New York Times
Summary: In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Émile Durkheim (1912) explains the social significance of religious life. He argues—“the universal and eternal objective cause of … religious experience … is society”; and—“that which makes a man is the totality of the intellectual property which constitutes civilization, and civilization, is the work of society.” In other words, religion is created by society, and that its beliefs and what it constitutes as "sacred" are a product of human meaning and culture. In this video, we see Hans Mattsson, a former high-ranking leader within the Mormon Church in Europe, coming to terms with the notion that his religion may have been constructed by society (Mattsson is one of a growing group of disbelievers in the Mormon church). It notes that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e. the Mormon Church) has always taught that The Book of Mormon is factually and historically true, but its claims have recently been contradicted by a variety of evidence. Evidence also shows the Church's founder (Joseph Smith) had intimate relationships with many wives, some of whom were very young, casting further doubt within its adherents. As noted in the accompanying NYT article. "The church was born in America only 183 years ago, and its founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, and his disciples left behind reams of papers that still exist, documenting their work, exposing their warts and sometimes contradicting one another." But the Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, has had over 2,000 years to work through doubts raised by insiders and outsiders. This more recent example, therefore, might serve as a metaphor to think about how all religions (as argued by Durkheim) are constructed by society. Viewers are encouraged to consider how religions are constructed by people, and following Durkheim, what social conditions are necessary for the development of any religion? (Durkheim argues the necessary conditions are the separation of sacred from profane, beliefs, rites, and a church or single overarching moral community.) In addition, the video illustrates Durkheim's concept of integration, or the degree to which collective sentiments are shared and have social relations which bind individuals to a group. Durkheim argued that too much integration or too little integration is damaging to the individual and we see this when Mattsson's integration is lost. In the accompanying article, Mattsson is quoted as saying "Everything I’d been taught, everything I’d been proud to preach about and witness about just crumbled under my feet. It was such a terrible psychological and nearly physical disturbance.” When Mormons expressed such doubts, they were often cut off from friends, family, and leadership within the church—thereby illustrating a social cause for their individual psychological predicament.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
"Is This Art?" (fig 2: If This Is Art); ©Maciej Ratajski (artist)
Tags: art/music, organizations/occupations/work, social construction, theory, art worlds, howard becker, networks, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This humorous video was recorded by Ken Tanaka during his visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. (Tanaka is an alter-ego of comedian and actor, David Ury). In this clip, Tanaka expresses his appreciation for what he believes is an installation piece called "Please Do Not Enter." The gallery guard is quick to correct Tanaka, informing him that, "This is not artwork" but rather the remnants of an exhibit that closed two days ago. But Tanaka presses on, articulating the ways in which this particular combination and composition of materials (a trash can, cardboard, and Styrofoam) speak to him: "I thought this was a good commentary on the disposable American society," he says. Eventually, a crowd starts to gather around the exhibit, and the gallery guard laughs saying, "You got everybody thinking it's art." To which Tanaka responds, "But it is art. Otherwise it wouldn't be in a museum." This clip can be used to illustrate Howard Becker's theory of art worlds. In his book by the same name, Becker (1982) argues that art worlds refer to "the network of people whose cooperative activity, organized via their joint knowledge of conventional means of doing things, produces the kind of art works that art world is noted for" (x). In short, this social organizational (rather than aesthetic) approach to art suggests that a network of people produce art and determine what art is. In this clip, Tanaka's artistic assessment of "Please Do Not Enter" is challenged, as the gallery guard is privy to the fact that the larger art world would not consider it art. Tanaka, of course, also draws upon an art world approach in his defense for why it must be art, "Otherwise it wouldn't be in a museum." Museums represent a segment of the network of people that make up an art world, and they lend institutional legitimacy to whether something is categorized as art or not. Notably, this video was shot in the American folk art wing of the museum. Created by artists without formal training, American folk art was overlooked by the larger art world for a long time. Once folk art began to receive attention from mainstream players in the art world, such as collectors, galleries, and eventually museums, the genre came to be defined as a valuable artistic expression, with some pieces now selling for over a $1 million. This video would also pair well with Ashley Mears' (2011) ethnographic study Pricing Beauty, in which she applies Becker's theory to the world of modeling, illustrating how a network of people come to determine what defines a good "look."
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Tags: culture, discourse/language, inequality, knowledge, media, race/ethnicity, colonialism, neocolonialism, postcolonialism, privilege, rule of colonial difference, white savior industrial complex, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: The broad claim that certain groups have power over others—that racism, sexism, and classism exist—is hardly controversial. Yet mention privilege and tempers flare. But privilege is simply the other side of the power coin. Just as some racial groups are systematically oppressed and marginalized, other racial groups are systematically privileged, and just as forms of oppression vary, so too do forms of privilege. For instance, a white privilege might simply be living in a world where one can count on being paid more on average than Blacks or Latinos. While pay gaps may be easily quantified, forms of privilege that are less amenable to statistical analysis exist as well. Consider the male privilege of being immersed in a media environment that consistently depicts men as important and powerful. Or consider the white privilege of living in a media environment that assures audiences that white heroes are nearly always capable of transcending adversity. The above clip is from "Africa for Norway" and parodies the narrative typically deployed by Western charity organizations in their campaigns to secure funds and drum up support. It draws attention to a kind of Western privilege, a privilege both forged from and bound up with the experience of colonialism, the application of the rule of colonial difference (i.e., representing the 'other' as inferior and radically different), and Western racism. Whether it is the Kony 2012 campaign or the 1985 song "We Are the World," the story being peddled to publics is of a compassionate West saving the 'other' from unbearable poverty or some other grave injustice. Author Teju Cole famously named this dominant cultural narrative and the practices it calls forth the white savior industrial complex. While the components of the narrative can be spotted in the viral videos of these NGOs, Cole points out that it can also be found in countless Hollywood films, such as Out of Africa and The Constant Gardener. Time and again, moviegoers and YouTubers are asked to consider a rather narrowly defined hero. He's a compassionate white westerner, who stands apart in his uncommon ability to recognize the basic humanity of the many black and brown foreigners he has encountered while on his journey through an unfamiliar land; and against the advice of civilization, he heroically commits himself to the mission of saving these people from their plight. Although the perception that it is a criticism against charity will likely be a point of contention with viewers, the real critique, which is aimed at neocolonialism and the privileges it supports is incisive. It is a peculiar kind of Western privilege to be able to wade through the media pool each day, soaked by the various incarnations of this narrative, a day full of subtle reminders of one's intrinsic goodness and extraordinary abilities.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
Cultures have unique ideas of beauty, such as long neck length.
Tags: bodies, culture, emotion/desire, gender, multiculturalism, sex/sexuality, social construction, cultural relativity, ideal beauty, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: What is beauty? Is beauty an objective feature or is it in the "eye of the beholder"? According to a 2012 competition hosted by Lorraine Cosmetics, the most "natural" and "objectively" beautiful woman was determined "scientifically" through such measures as facial symmetry. While the incident ignited a public debate about the ability to "scientifically" measure beauty, a review of the research shows that people's sense of beauty varies across time and culture. In this video, famous anthropologist Desmond Morris notes that while there is a "biological language of sex" in which people are attracted to others through physical characteristics, this process is mediated through a "complex cultural adventure." Throughout cultures across the world, people exaggerate the features of beauty that their culture deems attractive. A study looking at beauty across 200 different cultures found hardly any qualities that existed across all cultures. The video documents several of these physical features on women, including neck length, foot size, and lip size. It illustrates the cultural evaluation of beauty and the (often painful) techniques used to achieve the unnaturally extreme forms of beauty. What notions of female beauty in your culture might be similar to or different from conceptions of beauty found in the video? Viewers may also note the heteronormativity of the video, in which beauty is explicitly stated to attract members of the opposite sex.
Submitted By: omowbray
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
Juan Carlos Claudio
Tags: art/music, bodies, gender, sex/sexuality, social construction, dance, masculinity, performance, subtitles/CC, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: This video features a dance piece entitled "The One & The Other," and is part of the graduate thesis of choreographer Juan Carlos Claudio (performing here with Graham Brown). In the piece, Claudio explores issues of masculinity and male-male friendships. He writes in his thesis: "The One & The Other came from a desire to portray the process of developing a healthy male relationship in which traits of masculinity and femininity are fully realized and expressed without fear or judgment. In presenting an example of this relationship I hoped to: 1) Challenge the old-fashioned rules of masculinity and the assumptions of male superiority, so that men could live happier and more fulfilled lives; 2) Expand men’s personal and emotional selves by helping them expose and realize their fears of close affection toward other men; and 3) Understand how men can create more genuine friendships by overcoming competitiveness, inexpressiveness, and other aspects of traditional masculine roles." This piece is not set to music. If you turn the volume up high you can hear the sounds of breathing and bodies in motion. After showing this performance in class, I ask students to discuss their emotional or visceral responses; they often say that it made them feel uncomfortable. This sets up a discussion of our social expectations of performances of masculinity, and can segue into a discussion of how we connect gender performance to ideas about sexuality. I ask the students to honestly assess whether they made assumptions about the sexuality of the performers based on their movements and interactions, and what led them to these assumptions. The video can also be used as an introduction to why bodies matter—I often ask students if they would feel more comfortable if it were two women dancers, or a male-female couple, and how their interpretations of certain movement sequences might be altered.
Submitted By: Michelle Sandhoff
Tags: abortion/reproduction, aging/life course, biology, bodies, gender, health/medicine, lgbtq, marriage/family, science/technology, sex/sexuality, social construction, fatherhood, motherhood, parenting, pregnancy, stigma, transgender, subtitles/CC, 06 to 10 mins
Summary: This video portrays the experiences and voices of various transgender parents and their families, which includes their decisions to become parents, reflections on what it means to be a parent, experiences of being a child of a transgender parent, the social stigma attached to being a transgender parent (and transgenderism in general), and experiences with various reproductive technology options. The video is excellent for illustrating the diversity of family structures and alternative gender arrangements, and would be useful in a class on sociology of the family, reproduction, gender, or sex and sexuality. People in the video highlight the hyper-gendered experience of pregnancy and parenting, thereby illustrating the social construction of these core features of the life course; this social constructivist perspective stands in contrast to common biological understandings of pregnancy and parenting. This video would pair well with Laura Mamo's Queering Reproduction: Achieving Pregnancy in the Age of Technoscience, as well as with GLAD's recently released book, Transgender Family Law: A Guide to Effective Advocacy, which can offer a nice framework for discussing some of the legal issues and advocacy strategies that transgender people encounter in a family law context. The video is also available with Spanish subtitles.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
Image by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images for Beatie
Tags: goffman, psychology/social psychology, social construction, theory, face, impression management, interaction order, self, 00 to 05 mins
Access: Comedy Central
Summary: One of the most difficult aspects of Ervin Goffman’s face to understand is the concept’s multifaceted nature. Face is both ‘something we are in’ during social interactions as we conform to social roles, identities and practices; but simultaneously face is also ‘something that can be gained and lost’ through our impression management. To overcome this difficulty, Dave Chappelle’s ‘When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong’ can be used to highlight the multifaceted nature of Goffman’s concept. In this video, Vernon Franklin feels a colleague violated the rules of the interaction order by being insensitive, thus creating a social situation where the two facets of face conflict with each other. Vernon is forced to choose between ignoring an insensitive comment and maintaining face as afforded to him by his colleagues because he abides by the rules of the interaction order; or challenging his offensive colleague and save the face he claims for himself through his personal pride and dignity. Vernon chose the former by leaving face and “keeping it real;” or he abandons the line others expect him to play to maintain a positive self-perception of his own self. Because of his own violation of interaction order, he ends up first losing face as afforded to him by others when he is fired from his high paying job and then the face he is able to claim for himself as he is relegated to the occupational role of a poorly paid car wash employee.
Submitted By: Jason T. Eastman
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