Sociology 1005 – Spring 2009

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.

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.

Reading assignment for Tuesday, March 31st

More tomatoes!

Barbara Kingsolver wrote a whole chapter in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about the tomato harvest in their family garden. She describes being overwhelmed by trying to cope with 20% of a ton of tomatoes (400 pounds, or about 180 kilos). We heard in the Gourmet article about tomato harvesting in Florida that one worker picks a ton of tomatoes per day — which gives us some perspective both on how many tomatoes she is dealing with, and how many tomatoes an industrial farm handles.

Reading assignment for Tuesday, March 24th

Here’s a chapter from Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential.

It’s a fun and colorful look at what sort of people end up in restaurant kitchens – I think you’ll enjoy reading it. When you’re reading, think about his descriptions of people interacting in a kitchen — what similar situations does your workplace have?

Assignment: MIDTERM DUE MARCH 19th

[Edited to add: Ai yi yi! I found out that the topics were not showing up because I pasted the text from Word — it’s fixed now!]

As I mentioned before, I’m *really* sorry that this is late – I’ve had horrible trouble with internet connectivity! I don’t want you to lose time on the midterm, though, so i’m giving everyone a two-day extension.

Instructions: Pick three of the following five topics, and write one-page responses to the topic question. Let me know if you have any questions!

1: Pick any two (or more!) of the readings (or the videos) 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.

2: Write one page about something you’ve learned at Baruch this semester (from a class besides this one) that relates to our class topics.

3: One part of the “sociological imagination” is being able to imagine the world through someone else’s eyes. Race, gender, and class are important parts of that. Using anything we have discussed in class or any of our readings, tell me about new insights you’ve gained. (Example: You aren’t immigrant workers in London, or field hands in Florida, but I think many of you saw the world a little differently by reading those articles – now I’d like to hear more about that. Pick any article or class discussion that works for you.

4: We’ve talked a lot in class about food – how it’s picked and grown, how food culture can unite us within our families and ethnic groups, how ecological concerns are intertwined with both those things. I’d like to hear about your food culture. Write a page about the foods you grew up eating, or that you eat now. Also write about how you’d be affected by trying to eat more locally, and whether you think that would be a reasonable goal for you.

5: We’ve also talked about new technologies, and how they are changing the ways we interact not only with our friends and family, but also with strangers. I’d like to hear about your interactions with technology, particularly how you use it to interact socially with others. How do you use cellphones, email, text messages, social networks (LiveJournal, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Skype, etc.) and other forms of communicating through technology to keep in touch with friends? How has that changed for you in the last three years? How do you think it will continue to change?

Video assignment: Watch/read these before Tuesday, March 17th!

Hi everyone! I’ve had outrageous trouble getting online at all, and getting enough bandwidth to watch videos to make sure I had the ones I wanted you all to watch, but that’s straightened out now.

Later in the semester I’ll try again to have us do a day of all videos; but for Tuesday’s class on the 17th, I’ve got a couple of short videos with short readings that will help us get the context for the videos.

I’m really sorry that these posts are late!


First Lady Michelle Obama gives a tour of the White House kitchen before a State Dinner: There is a short text article and then a 9-minute video of the First Lady giving a tour to “the top six students from L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, MD.” Here’s another short article about the same event. It looks like food policy really IS going to change in the White House!


Bill Cunningham is a fashion reporter for the New York Times. He has been taking candid photographs for them for decades. His photos used to just run as a half-page in the Style section of the paper; now that the Times has been experimenting with adding so much online content, his photos also appear as a slideshow, with audio commentary from him.

Please read Bill Cunningham’s short autobiographical article in the Times. Here’s an audio slideshow on winter coats (about 3 minutes long). And here’s another one on the use of bright colors in clothing.

Reading assignment: Thursday, March 5th

Here’s the reading for Thursday night’s class — the first chapter from Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which she tells how she and her family grew their own food for a year (or bought it locally), and everything they learned as a result.

To download that, right-click on the filename and save it to your computer. Of course, you can also read it online — you’ll want to rotate the file, though!

It’s a little longer than our readings have been, but much easier than the Goffman reading. Please read it before class and come in ready to talk about it — think about what it would be like to grow your own food, for instance, and to make the choices Kingsolver and her family have made.

Reading assignment for Thursday, February 26, 2009

For Thursday night, please read Erving Goffman’s article On Cooling the Mark Out. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about “confidence games” and how Goffman is able to go from talking about a very specific topic — people who have been defrauded — to talking about society at large.

See you in class!