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
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
Tags: discourse/language, inequality, media, prejudice/discrimination, race/ethnicity, science/technology, representation, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Given the current media spotlight on racist patterns of violence, it's easy to lose sight of more subtle forms of racism. For instance, a daily barrage of media featuring white protagonists simply becomes an unremarked upon backdrop of everyday life, like the piped elevator music that cajoles one into humming along despite being ambivalent about the tune. One racist backdrop might be the book covers one encounters at a typical bookstore. For instance, one analyst found that in 2011 a white person was featured on roughly 90% of all young adult book covers, whereas a Person of Color could only be found on somewhere between 10% and 15% of covers. The quiet tendency to whitewash media is but one reason why representations of whiteness have come to dominate the media landscape. Black and brown characters in popular books are routinely rewritten as white characters in Hollywood film adaptations. And speaking of film and television, one 2013 study found that while whites comprised 63% of the population, they were featured on the evening cable news shows 79% of the time. • The point is not to simply draw attention to the disproportionate number of roles being written for white men and women, or the fact that whites are being given more of a voice in popular media. Instead, my aim is to simply point out that visual media, such as advertising, television, and film, play a key role in promoting the idea of whiteness as the default or universal human. More pointedly, such visual media reinforce the idea that People of Color are deviations, somehow not fully compatible with the human ideal. • Consider the phrasing, "normal to dark skin," recently spotted on a bottle of Dove body lotion. It escapes most people's attention that "normal" is being used as a synonym for "white." Whiteness is the default. In the above comedy sketch from Saturday Night Live, Sasheer Zamata points out a second example of how whiteness becomes normalized in the selection of emojis used in texting. Not one of the more than 800 emojis depicts a Black person, and as Zamata notes, "Unicode, the company that creates emojis, thought that instead of one black person we needed two different kinds of dragons, nine different cat faces, three generations of a white family. And all the hands are white, too. Even the Black power fist is white!"
Submitted by: Lester Andrist
Tags: aging/life course, demography/population, health/medicine, methodology/statistics, demographic transition, fertility, mortality, total fertility rate, subtitles/CC, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: The population pyramid is a visualization of a society's age structure and is so named because of its shape. A thick base at the bottom indicates that the largest share of the population is young, and the pyramid's steep slope, which vanishes to a point, represents the cold fact that the mortality rate increases as people age. In countries around the world, the shape of this pyramid age distribution has been observed to change, a process demographers call a demographic transition. The traditional pyramid shape is common in less industrialized societies, which is an indication that fertility and mortality rates are high and life spans are short. However, with the diffusion of medical advancements, the reach of health care services, and improvments in drinking water and sanitation mortality rates typically drop and life spans increase. And with more children surviving the first decade of life and contraception becoming more widely available, fertility rates typically plummet. The result is that the pyramid-looking age distribution begins to resemble a column. Since each successive bar represents the size of an age cohort, it follows that in a society with a stable fertility rate and a low mortality rate, the bars resist sloping inward until the older age cohorts where mortaility seems to overcome advancements in health. • As the above video from The Economist explains, demographic transitions have been observed to happen on a country-by-country basis, but if one pools data from countries around the world, it appears that the age structure of the global population is slowly undergoing one big demographic transition. In 1970, the world's population could be represented as a pyramid, but in 2015 the the pyramid more closely resembles the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building. By 2060, demographers project that the dome-like structure will give way to columns, and it may be difficult to remember why demographers ever called it a population pyramid in the first place. • It is important to keep in mind that creating these graphs is more than an exercise in data visualization, and such graphs can be useful tools for policymakers. For instance, whether the age distribution resembles a pyramid or a column has important implications for answering questions about society's tax structure and resource allocations. It is essential to know the number of people who comprise vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly. Population pyramids and the calculations they represent can also become a catalyst for more philosophical ponderings, such as what it will mean that for the first time in human history the world will have just as many older people as children.
Submitted by: Lester Andrist
Tags: capitalism, consumption/consumerism, corporations, economic sociology, globalization, apparel, fashion, supply chains, sweatshops, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: In this clip from Last Week Tonight, John Oliver analyzes the rise of fast fashion and its tremendous profits. Fast fashion includes short times from design to rack, with fashion styles changing constantly at companies such as H&M, Zara, and Forever 21. But news commentators are shown marveling at the very low costs of the trendy, fashionable clothes. Given these low costs, Oliver asks “How does any clothing company make money?” After all, the industry has many billionaire founders and executives, whose companies excel with high-volume sales. The reality is that 2% of clothing worn by Americans is made in the US, while the rest is produced overseas and often in sweatshop conditions. Oliver frames this in terms of the outrage over sweatshop clothing producers in the 1990s, by companies such as Nike, Gap, and most famously, Kathie Lee Gifford. In response to protests, many of these large companies agreed to monitoring programs in their supply chains. So how have their production conditions changed? In more recent years, undercover journalists investigating Gap and Wal-Mart found child slaves; non-compliance with workplace safety standards; and repeated denial of responsibility for any wrong-doing. One particular issue is that contractors producing clothes for Wal-Mart must follow certain standards, but contractors frequently send this work to sub-contractors; when the sub-contractors violate labor standards, Wal-Mart denies any knowledge that their clothes were being produced in these factories. However, this issue is far from an isolated event, and Wal-Mart repeatedly denies awareness of these issues. This dynamic is not unique to any manufacturer, but it reflects supply chain issues that are fundamental to the global economy, and are an important part of understanding global inequality and our own participation (as consumers) within it.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: government/the state, politics/elections/voting, budgeting, democracy, real utopia, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video from the Participatory Budgeting Project provides an overview of participatory budgeting (PB). In short, it is a "a different way to engage with government and decide how tax dollars are spent" by engaging all citizens in the budgeting process. The video outlines the steps of participatory budgeting, including (1) brainstorming ideas for projects that citizens would like to see in their neighborhoods; (2) having volunteers develop project proposals and narrow down the proposals; (3), presenting projects to the public for a vote; and (4) funding the projects with the most votes. The projects are then implemented and the process starts again the next year and budgeting cycle. The video draws upon testimonies from people who participate in the New York City PB process (the largest PB system in the US), noting the project's success. It further adds that the process started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has spread throughout 1,500+ communities around the world. Porto Alegre is the most famous example, and has been studied widely. For example, it is featured in Erik Olin Wright's Real Utopias project (see chapter 6, pages 155-167). Wright describes the project and its impacts on Porto Alegre, including a shift toward greater spending on poor communities, high and sustained levels of participation, strengthening of civil society, the near elimination of corruption, and greater tax compliance.
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: culture, education, immigration/citizenship, multiculturalism, nationalism, race/ethnicity, american, cultural assimilation, melting pot, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This episode of "The American Melting Pot" is from Schoolhouse Rock!, the popular animated and musical education series for children. While it sought to promote awareness of immigration and diversity, it also illustrates the concept of cultural assimilation and the ideology of the US as a melting pot. The song's chorus communicates "Lovely Lady Liberty / With her book of recipes / And the finest one she's got / Is the great American melting pot." The animation reveals her book of recipes (e.g. Irish Stew) from various immigrant groups, but also a recipe for "The Great American Melting Pot," with these ingredients: "Armenians, Africans, English, Dutch, Italians, Chinese, Poles ..." The concept of the melting pot is that these cultures have peacefully intermixed throughout American history, thus building and then becoming a part of a dominant culture of American values and customs—which continues to welcome immigrants that "melt" or assimilate into a unified mainstream American culture (Native American culture and its destruction are never mentioned). It's clear intention is to promote equality: "You simply melt right in / It doesn't matter what your skin / It doesn't matter where you're from / Or your religion, you jump right in / To the great American melting pot." But in an educational context, its ideological effect can be to obscure that race and religion both mattered at the time the series was aired in the 1970s, and that they continue to matter today. Proponents of multiculturalism have critiqued this concept and suggested new metaphors (e.g. salad bowl, cultural mosaic, or kaleidoscope) where different ethnic groups maintain their own cultural identities within a shared space. The video does, however, suggest a more nuanced notion of the melting pot when it states "How great to be an American / And something else as well" while it reveals a flag-waving grandmother's button that reads "Kiss me, I'm Polish." Thank you to Nicole Spitzer for recommending this clip!
Submitted By: Paul Dean
Tags: bodies, gender, marketing/brands, theory, beauty, looking-glass self, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: In this ad, Dove’s encouragement of women to "choose beautiful" appears to empower women, but it actually serves to reinforce western standards of beauty and one's sense of self-worth in terms of physical appearance. The ad functions as a social experiment that forces women to choose walking through an “average” or “beautiful” door in a public space. Many women shown are directly influenced by their friends or family when choosing a door, and some are physically steered toward beautiful. Others naturally select the average door, apparently feeling like they did not fit the standards of prescribed beauty. Those who "choose beautiful" report feeling better about themselves, and in this way, Dove is suggesting that being beautiful is about the choices we make as individuals. However, the message of the ad is more complicated. First, in contrast to "average," the idea that beauty is for a minority is reinforced. By positioning “beautiful” in binary opposition to “average” not all women can be beautiful. Second, all of the women interviewed, despite having different cultural backgrounds, fit conventional definitions of beauty. They are all thin, long-haired, have clear skin, and are relatively young. Even the women of color featured have light skin. This sample suggests a specific image of beauty (this skewed sample, which Dove presents as a diverse group, is further explored in our previous post). Third, it reinforces the sense of self-worth on beauty by making women choose between these specific doors, and encouraging women to choose beautiful. Fourth, parts of the video take place in countries like China and India, where the white ideal of beauty (fitting the characteristics described above) has been imposed through colonization. The implications that beauty is for the elite is inescapable. Women in the advertisement are forced to either identify with the majority or to place themselves in positions of prestige. Finally, the video is a great illustration of the looking-glass self, a theoretical concept that explains how perceptions of one’s self are influenced by interactions with others and the imagination of how these others perceive us. Through the lens of the looking-glass self, women approach the door and develop a sense of themselves as beautiful or average, which is largely shaped by their perceptions of how others see them, then experience pride or shame for associating themselves with one or the other door.
Submitted By: Miranda Ames
Tags: children/youth, class, education, inequality, cultural capital, first-gen, social mobility, 00 to 05 mins
Access: New York Times
Summary: This video and the accompanying NYT article analyze the experiences of students who are the first in their family to attend college (i.e. first-gen students). It addresses the challenges that students face, including not knowing how to network, discomfort in talking with professors, not having parents to help them navigate higher education, not having money to buy appropriate clothes for professional interviews, and needing to work while attending college. In sociological terms, these reflect inequalities in both economic capital (e.g. needing to work) and cultural capital (e.g. not having the knowledge and disposition necessary for navigating professional institutions). The video also mentions positive parts of the first-gen experience, such as knowing how to do their own laundry and other basic skills for independently taking care of oneself, and having empathy for others who struggle. It addresses issues of identity, including how some students actively conceal a first-gen identity, difficulties communicating the experience to family, but also having pride in (and "coming out" as) first-gen. These issues of identity and experience in both college and professional life are insightfully explored in Alfred Lubrano's book, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams. Other resources on first-gen students include this Chronicle of Higher Education report and Social Class on Campus: Theories and Manifestations (Barratt 2011). The video also documents Brown's first conference for inter-ivy first-gen students, organized by the student group 1vyG at Brown, where students shared their first-gen experiences. While the video focuses on first-gen students from ivy-league Brown University, the experiences translate to other institutional contexts as well (I can attest to this as a first-gen student myself!).
Submitted By: Paul Dean
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