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)


  1. Let me break down my iphone for you:

    It is white and sleek, and shiny. It has a small screen that you can touch to control it. There are several buttons on it and there is a logo of an apple on the back of it, but the logo is covered by some stickers put on there, one of which says "Sal" :-). The touch screen reveals all sorts of icons and information from music to phone numbers to videoes, to a calendar.

    It can be purchased at an apple store, an AT&T dealer and soon at Best Buy. I use it all day long for checking email, making phone calls, setting up reminders and surfing the web. I especially used it on vacation to find maps of where I was going and entertaining my daughter. I first was interested in the iphone when I saw some fellow teachers with it. They exposed me to its uses and that intrigued me. I am fairly certain that it exists in many other countries around the world - but mostly the developed ones such as Japan, Great Britain, Australia, etc...
    So my owning an ipod is not just because I wanted one, but because I teach at an upper-middle class, technologically advanced school in a most developed country. I live in 2008 and and the ipod has only been available for a few years (the information age), but it was developed as a response to individualism. People want to listen to their own music and watch their own videoes. We want to be connected via phone and internet to information.
    Do you see how the Sociological Imagination transforms our understanding of the ipod?

  2. Gotta get to class but one last thing:

    We also live in an age of corporate branding and control. All of these ipods look the same - all over the world. They all are a part fo the Apple brand - which many people identify with. Mine says "Sal" because I am seeking authenticity and uniqueness in the growing corporately ccontrolled world.

  3. Sal,

    I'm not teaching SOC this year so I won't be at the CAST Conference. But as a fellow teacher, I appreciate so much what you are disseminating: this post has given me a new way to revisit an old activity I would do with my history classes.

    Basically, I would start the year out by pretending I was dead, and that I was actually a substitute teacher instead. In that guise, I would provide the kids with a box of artifacts from their "dead" teacher. I think your SOC Imag activity is a wonderful way to re-vision my own start of the year.

    Hopefully see you next year!

  4. your the teacher, im the student. i described myself, my influence, my purpose. i have no intention of being a punk, dont know how to describe myself.

    see you tomorrow.