Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Exercising Your Sociological Imagination

Peter Kaufman, a professor at SUNY at New Paltz, gives us a guide for exercising our sociological imaginations. Think of an item - any item in your bag, in your room, whatever. Then post your answers to the following questions:
1.Describe the item in detail. What is it called? What does it look like?

2.Analyze the item from a local perspective. How is this item a part of everyday life? How is it used? How and where is it bought and sold? Who benefits from it? Who is harmed/suffers because of it? Why does it look the way it does?

3.Analyze the item globally. Does it exist in other countries? If so, in what form? Is it used any differently there? Does it affect life on the planet in any significant way? Where and how was it made?

4.Analyze it historically. When did this object come into existence? Why did it appear at this time? How has the object changed over time? What other aspects of social life have changed as a result of this item? What will the object be like in the future - will it still exist and in what form?

5.Now think about your item. Do you see how it is part of a much larger context?Do you see how your experiences have shaped your ownership of that item? This is a sociological imagination.

(This exercise is adapted from Kaufman's article in Teaching Sociology, Vol. 25, No. 4. Oct., 1997, pp. 309-314)

Friday, August 22, 2008

How sociology saved a life - what can it do for you?

Every year I talk to my students about how sociology can change their lives. It probably sounds cliche. But I also imagine that it is easy to blow off such an idea when you already have an abundant life. Students from an upper-middle class school with little poverty, little violent crime have an easy time overlooking their lives and all they have to be thankful for. The following story is a reminder of both how much most of us have to be thankful for and also how sociology and self-reflection can affect a life. To listen to this story click here.
Seven years ago, Jesse Jean was failing high school. The African-American teenager from Washington, D.C., had no family support. He missed two-thirds of the 10th grade and was surrounded by what he called a "thug mentality." Then two women from the local teen center were assigned as his mentors. They arranged a scholarship at a boarding school in New England and told Jean that attending was his last chance. Jean refused — until he heard that 99 percent of the students at the boarding school enrolled in college. So he went. He got up for class every day and his F's changed to C's.
His mentors stuck with him. One became his legal guardian, and they were the only people he invited to his college graduation. In June, the 24-year-old Jean received his diploma from Ohio Wesleyan University. While he was there, Jean studied anthropology and sociology and thought hard about where he came from — and how he avoided what seemed like a predestined life of violence and crime.
Jean's mother and father died in a murder-suicide when he was 2 years old. His two favorite cousins went to jail. Friends got high every day, but Jesse didn't. "It was ascribed in me when I was born," he says. "I wasn't afraid to go against the grain, not have people accept me fully. There were times I was alienated." Jean says he spent many years as a loner — a protection mechanism.
Why did Jean's sister and brother drop out of school, but not him? How was he able to accept help from his tutors, Teri Ellison and Toni Hustead, two white women from a radically different world? Read more here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Today on NPR's Talk of the Nation there was a story about college that should give high school seniors something to think about. The story is summarized here
A college degree can cost as much as a decent single family house and more often than not, it's the parents who foot most of the bill, yet, a new study shows many families don't consider the price tag when choosing a school or whether that degree will help pay it off later. So we ask: How should we pay for college?
What do you think about paying for college? Is cost an issue for you? Should it be or should there be another way of making college affordable? You can click here to listen to the show. Or click here to see the blog from the show and what others have said about it.

If you are concerned about what college will cost you personally, here is an older story that addresses how to pay for college without going broke.