2015-2016 Sociology Courses
Health Policy/Health Activism
How does your race, class, gender, and where you live and work influence whether you get sick? Why does the United States spend more on health care than other countries yet rank relatively low on many measures of good health? How likely is it that you will have access to health care when you need it? Can we make affordable health care available to more people? What do we mean by “public health”? What is the role of government in providing health care or managing the health of populations? In this course, we will investigate these questions directly and by studying health social movements. Health activists have not only advocated for particular diseases and for research funding but also have sought to reduce stigma, uncover health disparities and environmental injustices, and democratize medical research. We will begin the year by studying these social movements in conjunction with studying patterns of ill health; i.e., who gets sick and why? We will then examine the history and contemporary meanings of “health,” examining the moral values attached to health and illness and questions of medical authority and medical knowledge. In the spring semester, we will turn to health-care systems, both within the United States and globally. We will study programs of health-care reform in the United States and other countries, international health policy, and specific health policy issues such as vaccination, genetic screening, and the ethics of medical research. Throughout the year, we will explore—through the lens of health—broad questions of social justice, inequalities, governance, activism, and the environment.
Cities and Urbanization
What is the object of study for urban sociologists? The very concept of “urban” is a geographical, political, and cultural constellation; but what constitutes the limits of the city? This lecture examines the historical constitution of urban sociology and surveys the development of cities as sites for the study of social affairs, institutions, and innovations. The course covers classical theory and foundations of urban sociology (Simmel, Tönnies, Wirth, Park, Burgess, Jacobs, DuBois), as well as contemporary scholarship in the field (Harvey, Soja, Sassen, Logan & Molotch, Zukin, Florida, Wacquant). We will explore core approaches to the study of the city—the ecological approach, subcultural approach, political economy approach, and postmodern identity-based approaches—and seek to understand their relation to one another, as well as how they address urban issues such as suburbia, consumption, ghettoes, globalization, immigration, race, crime, and gentrification.
Sociology of Education
This seminar introduces students to sociological theory, methods, and research on the topic of schooling in the United States and abroad. Using both classical and contemporary readings, we will examine the reciprocity between schools, individuals, and societies and traverse conversations on the purpose and promise of schooling in response to industrialization, urbanization, and globalization. Topics addressed include the influence of politics, policy, and economics on the field of education; inequality and the factors of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality; culture and youth behavior; schools’ organizational environment; and different techniques of reform: accountability, autonomy, community engagement, charters, vouchers, network governance, mayoral influence, teacher evaluation, and financial incentives.
Marginality and Penalization
Marginalization is a characteristic trait of cities in the first world, and penalization has been responsive to new forms of urban development since the 1980s. Marginality refers to the exclusion of certain populations from a social mainstream because of cultural differences (race, ethnicity, religion), social roles (women, elderly, adolescents), and/or their location in the social structure (political, economic, social powerlessness). By definition, penalization subjects a person or entity to legal sanctions and punishment and/or imposes an unfair disadvantage. This seminar examines these topics in urban areas of the United States, in particular, via film, television, and texts of prominent authors in these fields, including Michelle Alexander, Javier Auyero, Alice O’Connor, Saskia Sassen, Loïc Wacquant, and Alford Young. We will introduce the problems—racial and cultural encapsulation, migration and immigration, education, health care, jobs, housing, globalization, poverty—and scrutinize the debates; e.g., the role of the state, differences in the way marginality is constructed, its impact on social mobility, new penal policies and their connection to urban renewal, the decline of the social welfare state, punishing the poor, the outsourcing of work, and forms of resistance.
Gender and Nationalism(s)
Nationalism can be understood as a project simultaneously involving construction(s) of memory, history, and identity. In this seminar, we will identify the multiple and shifting dimensions of nationalism as a historical world phenomenon. Central to our focus will be the centrality and particular constructions of gender in different national projects. Attention will be paid to nationalism in its colonial and contemporary trajectories. Questions to be addressed include the following: What is the relationship between nationalism and identity? Which symbols/languages are called upon to produce a sense of self and collective identity? What are the various inclusions, exclusions, and silences that particular historically-constituted nationalisms involve? Is nationalism necessarily a positive force? If not, under what circumstances, in what ways, and for whom does it pose problems? What is the relationship of nationalism(s) to minorities and socially/politically marginalized groups? How is pluralism and difference constructed and treated? How do the same positions (e.g., issues of cultural authenticity and identity) take on a different meaning at diverse historical moments? How does the insider/outsider relationship alter in different periods and conceptualizations? Women have been interpellated and have participated within nationalist movements in a variety of ways. The dynamics and contradictions of such involvement will be analyzed closely. We will strive to explore the implications of these processes for women’s sense of self, citizenship, and belonging at specific periods and over time. In the spring semester, we will turn our attention more specifically to performances of nationalism through institutional and popular cultural arrangements. Under the former category, we will look at issues of migration, immigration, and exile; public policy and international relations; war and conflict. In the arena of popular culture, we will examine the production of nationalism(s) through the mass media, sports, film, museums and exhibitions, and tourism. Conference work can include an examination of a specific nationalist movement, theoretical issues pertaining to nationalism(s), memory, identity, performances of nationalism(s) in popular culture and the mass media, and the interplay between institutional and everyday constructions of nationalism in specific settings. This is a graduate seminar with limited space for advanced undergraduates, with permission from the instructor.
First-Year Studies in Sociology: (Re)constructing the Social: Subject, Field, Text
How does the setting up of a textile factory in Malaysia connect with life in the United States? What was the relationship of mothers to children in upper-class, 17th-century French households? How do our contemporary notions of leisure and luxury resemble, or do they, notions of peoples in other times and places regarding wealth and poverty? What is the relation between the local and the global, the individual and society, the self and “other(s)”? How is the self constructed? How do we connect biography and history, fiction and fact, objectivity and subjectivity, the social and the personal? These are some of the questions sociology and sociologists attempt to think through. In this seminar, we will ask how sociologists analyze and simultaneously create reality, what questions we ask, and what ways we use to explore our questions and arrive at our findings and conclusions. Through a perusal of comparative and historical materials, we will look critically at things that we take for granted; for example, the family, poverty, identity, travel and tourism, progress, science, and subjectivity. The objective of the seminar is to enable students to critically read sociological texts and also to become practitioners in “doing” sociology (something we are always and already involved in, albeit often unself-consciously). This last endeavor is designed to train students in how to undertake research and intended as a key tool in interrogating the relationship between the researcher and the researched, the field studied, and the (sociological) text.
The (In)Security State: A Long History?
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on the security state, heightened surveillance, the expansion of executive and coercive power, and the diminishment of individual freedoms and curtailment of human rights. In many instances, acts of violence by nonstate actors are provided as rationale and justification for these changes, and 9/11 is represented as the pivotal moment when “everything changed.” In this course, we will interrogate this claim. We will trace constructions of fear and the felt need for “security” and surveillance historically and examine the distinction between past concerns and practices and those in the present day. We will ask: How do race, class, and nationalism factor into past and present security concerns and attendant practices of surveillance? What institutional forms and practices have helped produce the security regime in particular periods and at the present moment? What is the relation between the public and private sector in producing or challenging and normalizing the (in)security state? How do domestic security concerns and fears link up with international security? What is the relationship between the security state and militarization, both within the United States and overseas? In this regard, how do militarization (abroad) and policing (at home) meet up? How do militarization and neo-liberalization intersect locally, nationally, and internationally? How is a culture of fear, security, and surveillance normalized? What are the implications of greater policing and militarization for the state-civil society nexus and for a politics of dissent? This course will enable students to think through and become astute analysts of statist practices and their imbrication with nonstate actors in the private domain, both as partners and as an alibi for greater policing. Bringing together local and global concerns, we will gain a deeper understanding of how the activities happening in the United States meet up with developments internationally. Prior work in Sociology not essential. Students should have taken courses in one or more of the social sciences and/or history and have ability to engage with theoretical materials.
Disabilities and Society
In this seminar, we will broadly consider the topic of disability within contemporary society, examining questions of social justice, discrimination, rights, identities, and cultural representations. Disability studies is an interdisciplinary field of academic study that emerged out of disability rights movements and has, therefore, focused on how social structures are disabling, limiting, and exclusionary. In concert with this perspective, we will study the history of the disability rights movement, including the passage and ramifications of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We will also consider tensions within disability movements, including the difficulties inherent in mobilizing a collective identity that encompasses a wide range of conditions and circumstances. In addition to political mobilization, we will analyze cultural meanings and representations of physical, psychological, and cognitive disabilities. Cultural representations of disability shape our assumptions and expectations, while disability activists have used literature and art to contest stigma and create new kinds of representations of non-normative bodies and selves. Finally, we will consider questions of embodiment, self, and identity. Disability is typically defined in terms of physical or mental impairment, which implies that there is a “normal” state of nonimpairment. Defining disability has been highly contested, both because of the stigma attached to those who are seen as different and because many people with conditions that have been labeled as disabilities do not see their conditions in negative terms. Most of us will experience some degree of impairment at some point in our lives; but only some of us will be seen as, or identify ourselves as, disabled. Some disabilities are a part of identity from an early age, and others develop later in life. Thus, we will consider the relationship between embodiment, ability, and selfhood, looking at how people negotiate identity in relation to social categories and their own embodied experiences.
Queer Bodies: A Cultural History of Medical and Scientific Knowledge
How have physicians and scientists studied and understood differences in sex, gender, and sexuality? What categories have they used, and how have these categories and the assumptions underlying them changed over time? How have popular conceptions of gender and sexuality influenced science and vice versa? What has been at stake in viewing social differences as located in the body? How can we understand the medicalization and pathologization of queer bodies, genders, and sexualities in relation to broader cultural, moral, and political agendas? In this seminar, we will examine the history of scientific and medical study of sexual behavior, hormonal systems, the brain, and genetics. We will consider the varying relationships of gay, transgender, and intersex communities with science and medicine and tensions within those communities over whether scientific and medical knowledge is empowering or alienating. The books that we read will introduce students to the variety of methods and approaches used in the historical and sociological study of science and medicine, from close evaluation of the scientific evidence itself to analysis of the production of knowledge as a social activity and to broad analysis of science and medicine within politics, popular culture, and social movements. Conference work could hew closely to the topic of the seminar through the study of a particular debate, historical period, or area of scientific or medical research; or it could extend outwards to a broader set of topics, such as hormones and transgender health, the role of science in religious debates over sex and sexuality, or representations of queer bodies in art or popular culture.