2012-2013 Sociology Courses
First-Year Studies: (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 afresh 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 already involved in, albeit often unself-consciously). This last endeavor is both 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.
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.
Racial Americana: On the Afterlives of Genocide and Enslavement
In an era when politicians, pundits, artists, activists, scientists, and sociologists alike herald the beginning of a “postracial” age, it would appear to some in the United States that “race” might best be jettisoned, consigned to the rubbish bin of mere prejudices that we are all charged to overcome. But what if this narrative about advancement obscures the deep histories, indeed the foundations, of how racial domination is produced— and reproduced— in this country? Arguably, the “new world/s” upon which the Americas stand were built through twinned processes of Native American genocide and African enslavement. In this seminar, we will concern ourselves with the legacies of these processes, seeking to understand how they undergird racial thinking and racial inequality in the United States. We will thoroughly question the biological while exploring the social and ontological “facts” of race. While other courses focus on identity and identifications, this course will delve more deeply into the histories that ground race-making projects, as well as the literal and figurative legacies to which they give birth. Drawing from film screenings, class discussions, and readings from rich bodies of research in Native American and African American studies, as well as in Chicano/a studies, this seminar aims to unpack “common-sense” ideas about race. Together, we will develop new vocabularies to discuss the histories and contemporary impacts of the category’s origins, elaborations, and persistence.
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 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.
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 research funding but also have sought to reduce stigma, uncover health disparities and environmental injustices, and democratize medical research. In the first semester, we will study examples of health social movements, the history of health-care reform, and the social basis of health disparities: how social inequalities such as race and class lead to unequal patterns of health and illness. In the spring semester, we will broadly consider health and health care as an economic and cultural system: interactions among hospitals, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry; the influence of capitalism and profit seeking on our health and health care; and the complex history of public health as both a progressive agent of the social good and as a system of social control and differentiation. To illustrate these themes, we will examine debates over topics such as obesity, vaccination, and the ethics of medical research. Throughout the year, we will explore broad questions of social justice, inequalities, governance, activism, and the environment through the lens of health. Open to sophomores and above. Previous coursework in the social sciences is not required.
Politics of/as Representation
This seminar will address issues of politics and representation. We will look at the political process within the traditional domain of governance and popular participation, using as our primary (but not sole) focus the fall election campaign. We will also examine the way processes of representation (in their duality, which will be addressed here later) constitute a highly charged, political practice. Representation is understood and addressed in this course both in terms of the presence of particular social groups in the arena of politics and political debate and in terms of the symbolic portrayal of different groups and issues in terms of discursive and visual modes of articulation. Given the intersections between the two terms/dimensions under consideration, students will be expected to stretch their analytical faculties to tie them together in ways that are not necessarily always available to us in conventional texts and/or analyses and/or transparent. We will begin by focusing on the 2012 elections as a means to arrive at a better understanding of the ways in which public discourse is constructed, focusing particularly on the mass media’s contribution to this process. Through this analysis, we will address methodological and theoretical issues relevant to the themes addressed in this course. Bear in mind that the analysis of the elections is undertaken here for expository purposes and not as the conclusive word on all US elections and their history. In this light, and given the often commented on similarity between sports and electoral coverage, we will also look at sports and, particularly, representations of the body—social, political, and sexual. This will allow us to shift away from “the political” in the formal, conventional understanding of the term toward a closer look at the ways in which politics is constructed and experienced in/through our everyday lives and through our social relations. This turn in emphasis will allow us to build on the analytical tools and insights gained earlier in the course and allow us to examine at greater length issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and international affairs in a diversity of arenas, including (but not limited to) the mass media. Our focus here will be on the multiple languages that lie at the heart of cultural constructions and aesthetic productions and their relationship to dominant and subversive, as well as oppositional, forms of representation.