Sociology 1005 – Spring 2009

Final! Due Thursday, May 21, 2009, 6PM

Instructions: Pick three of the following five questions, and write one-page responses (no more than 500 words) to each topic question. That means you’ll write three responses, each about a page long. Let me know if you have any questions!

1. Find a newspaper or magazine article posted online (include the link!) that you think would have made a good reading for this class. Write a sentence or so explaining why, then write a reading response to that article (like the six you have done already).

2. We talked a lot about “dirty work” this semester, the distasteful jobs that support society. How has your opinion about this type of work changed over the course of the semester? Given that this work needs to be done, how can we be more appreciative, as a society, and as individuals, of the people who do this work? What did you learn from the readings and class discussions that affects your thoughts on this?

3. The main themes of this class were race, gender, class, technology, and globalization. Now that we’ve come to the end of the term, I’d like to know if my choice of themes makes sense to you. This was an introduction to sociology, the study of people in groups; how did those themes help you think about society, and the ways people interact with each other?

4. Is there anything you will do differently in your life as a result of this class? Are there any choices that you will make differently, or aspects of your life you will think about in a new way? Tell me what you think might change; I’d love to know!

5. Now that we have twice as many readings (and videos, and even games!), I’m going to repeat a question from the midterm: Pick any two (or more!) of the readings (or the videos or games) and relate them to each other, drawing on not just the readings themselves but also the class discussions. Write one page about how they relate.

For fun: Send me a link or a recipe for a food you particularly love, and tell me why you love it. (Here’s mine: Buttermilk biscuits — I only ever make these for Thanksgiving or special meals now, but they remind me of holiday meals growing up in the South, and they are so delicious.)

Finals are DUE on Thursday, May 21, 2009, at 6pm.

If you have any work that you haven’t turned in yet, *please email me* and let me know what’s up.

See you in class!

Last reading assignment: Thursday, May 14, 2009

In both class sessions yesterday we spent some time talking about technology and the future, and it occured to me that many of you might enjoy reading this article about how the New York Times is responding to the current changes in journalism and the economy. There is an innovation and research department at the Times, and the work they are doing there really excites me. Please read the article and come in ready to talk (more) about about where you see news and journalism going. I’d like to hear what you think about the changes the Times is making, and whether you think those will help.

It’s been a wonderful semester! I’ll post the final tomorrow afternoon!

We need technology to fix a lot of things!

This is another reading-that-isn’t-an-assignment. I mentioned it in the first class session, and a few people were really interested in reading it. You’re welcome to write a reading response to it, of course!

The New York Times wrote about the shameful status of state and federal government aid.

As millions of people seek government aid, many for the first time, they are finding it dispensed American style: through a jumble of disconnected programs that reach some and reject others, often for reasons of geography or chance rather than differences in need.

It’s becoming clear that “transparency in government” needs to mean more than simply keeping track of how senators and representatives vote. We need real transparency, a system that will allow everyone who is currently entitled to aid to receive that aid without humiliation and exhausting fights with bureaucracy.

not an assignment, just a reading!

Because of a discussion I was having with friends a couple of days ago, an article Malcom Gladwell wrote for the New York in 1996 came up. It’s terrific, and I want you to have the opportunity to read it. You’re welcome to do a writing response for it, if you’d like, too.

The article is “Black Like Them“, and the magazine provides a good summary: “Through the lens of his own family’s experience, the author explores why West Indians and American blacks are perceived differently.” Gladwell talks about his experiences in New York City and also in Toronto, and compares them.

It’s especially worth making it all the way through the article; in the middle, you may think that he’s making one argument, but by the end, I’m pretty sure you’ll be surprised.

Tonight’s class — review

Tonight we’ll talk about all the articles, videos, and games we’ve encountered this semester, coming back to the main themes of the class: race, class, gender, technology, and globalization.

Either tonight or Thursday we’ll have a treat from the greenmarket, too.

Reading (watching or gaming!) responses are due on Thursday, May 14th. If you have any problems with this deadline, please email me to talk about it.

On Thursday, I’ll post the questions for the final, which is due on Thursday, May 21st.

Reading assignment for Thursday, May 7, 2009

For Thursday I’d like you to read Robin Nagle’s account of part of her training to be a sanitation worker for the New York City Sanitation Department. (You’ll need to click through at the bottom of each page; she wrote one entry a day for five days.)

The New York Times ran a short profile of Dr. Nagle last year that mentions her recent efforts toward establishing a museum for the history of sanitation in New York City.

If you haven’t already, take a look at Garbage Glut, the survey/choose-your-own-adventure game about trash, recycling, and sanitation in New York. As we discussed in class, it’s not the very best game in the world, but it’s a pretty good overview of facts related to trashflow in the city.

Gaming assignment, Tuesday, May 5, 2009

[Edited to add games links!]

As I described in class Thursday night, your assignment for Tuesday, May 5th is to play one (or more!) of the games that I link to here from the Games for Change website. I’m picking just a few so that our class discussion can be a little more focused, but you are welcome to also play any of the other games at their site that interest you, and to mention them in class.

When you come to class, I’d like to hear about whether you think you learned more from the game than you would have by spending the same amount of time reading about the topic it addressed. Did you feel more intensely about the social situation than you did before you played? Did it seem more real to you, or more important?

Games for Change main game page

[Feel free to have a look at the page right now — I’m going to pick three or four games for us to look at from the whole list, and I’ll post those.]

Darfur is Dying — about the genocide in Darfur

Against All Odds — about the global refugee experience

The Arcade Wire:Airport Security — about airport security

Garbage Glut — waste management in NYC (we’re going to read about this soon!)

Pick at least one game to play and come to class ready to talk about what you think about it.

Thanks for going along with me — I think this is going to be a great class discussion!

Reading assignment for Thursday, April 30th

As promised, here’s a lighter reading, one that brings us back to food, globalization, and culture. 

Sasha Issenberg and Trevor Corson were interviewed in Slate magazine about their books on sushi; their conversation with the interviewer covers a little of the origins and history of sushi, as well as its subsequent globalization. 

I’ll bring in Issenberg’s book to read you a couple of excerpts. I also look forward to hearing what your experiences of sushi are: Do you eat it at all? Do you have it from delis and supermarkets, or at fancy sushi restaurants, or in-between sort of places? Do you think of it as a luxury food, or a lunchtime food, or as an exotic, strange thing that Other People eat?

Reading assignment for Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Please make sure you’ve read the articles from last Thursday, about shrinking cities, and then read two articles about extremely large cities: 

Learning from slums — This is a relatively recent article from the Boston Globe that made a lot of challenging and interesting assertions, such as:

…given the reality that poverty exists and seems unlikely to disappear soon, squatter cities can also be seen as a remarkably successful response to adversity – more successful, in fact, than the alternatives governments have tried to devise over the years. They also represent the future. An estimated 1 billion people now live in them, a number that is projected to double by 2030. The global urban population recently exceeded the rural for the first time, and the majority of that growth has occurred in slums. According to Stewart Brand, founder of the Long Now Foundation and author of the forthcoming book Whole Earth Discipline, which covers these issues, “It’s a clear-eyed, direct view we’re calling for – neither romanticizing squatter cities or regarding them as a pestilence. These things are more solution than problem.”

The strange allure of the slums — This is a similar article from the Economist from two years ago that talks not just about Mumbai and the Dharavi slums, but also about Nairobi and its immense Kibera slum. 

Most of what makes Kibera interesting, though, is what it shares with other African slums. The density (shacks packed so tightly that many are accessible only on foot); the dust (in the dry seasons) and the mud (when it rains); the squalor (you often have to pick your way through streams of black ooze); the hazards (low eaves of jagged corrugated iron); and the litter, especially the plastic (Kibera’s women, lacking sanitation and fearing robbery or rape if they risk the unlit pathways to the latrines, resort at night to the “flying toilet”, a polythene bag to be cast from their doorway, much as chamber pots were emptied into the street below in pre-plumbing Edinburgh). Most striking of all, to those inured to the sight of such places through photography, is the smell. With piles of human faeces littering the ground and sewage running freely, the stench is ever-present.

Of course, one problem with enormous cities is in the news right now: the quick spread of epidemic illness! Remember, though: You cannot get swine flu by eating pork, and the best thing to do to stay well is to wash your hands frequently! 

See you Tuesday night.

Class tonight 4/23 – shrinking cities vs. maximum cities

Over the break I was in Cleveland, OH. The current population there is just under half a million people. In *1950* the population there was nearly a million. Rather than growing over the last 60 years, Cleveland’s population has shrunk by almost half. The result is a ghost city — it looks like zombies have eaten the inhabitants, leaving the infrastructure (including a lot of really incredible architecture, and a very nice light rail system). 

We often think of cities as always getting bigger, but that’s not the case. Patterns of production change over the years, and the population changes with them. The website has a lot of resources on this topic. Please have a look at some of the pages there to get a sense of the situation. 

Here are two readings for you: A blog post from the Economist on Buffalo, and another analysis of Buffalo, which includes more of its history, from City Journal


Obviously I’m posting these really late; I’ve been pretty sick. Try to have a look at them before class tonight if you can. We’ll keep talking about shrinking cities next Tuesday, and compare them to the very different situation of “maximum” cities, such as Mumbai or Mexico City or Tokyo.