Thursday, July 29, 2004

The New Macho: Feminism

This article caught my attention, and while I don’t typically focus on gender issues or feminism in my research it made me think.  I particularly like Ehrenreich’s comment about calling the current ‘war’ the war on terror—I much prefer the suggestion that we identify the enemy of this campaign “an extremist Islamic insurgency” rather than the war on terror.  I think it helps to clarify that it is not all individuals who live in the middle-east or originated in that geographic region of the world.  It is a particular group of individuals who have a set of beliefs and ideas that are not necessarily shared by their fellow country men and women or other individuals who hold similar religious faiths. 

Apart from the commentary about how the ‘enemy’ is identified and portrayed I think this article does a good job of pointing out there are a lot of other issues going on domestically and abroad, which are often neglected by politicians.  There are a variety of issues in which the structural inequalities in U.S. and other societies are detrimental to particular segments of that population.  The issue of women’s status is just one of many.  I personally would be thrilled to see politicians take up the fight to effect structural changes that would make a real difference in the experience of these individuals and groups.  Whether or not they will is the larger question—one which doesn’t have a positive answer at present.  It is still nice to see an argument with some sociological elements out there, which gives encouragement to those of us making the effort to connect sociology with the publics it studies. 

The article should be available at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/29/opinion/29ehre.html?th.  It appeared in the July 29, 2004 NY Times.  


Call for Techniques: Teaching Public Sociologies

One project the public sociologies group at UIUC is working on is putting together a public sociologies teaching resource. We'd like to have a link to it available here for public access sometime this fall. In the meantime, we would like to hear of teaching techniques, assignments, course structure, etc. used by you to encourage thinking about the world sociologically bridging gaps between the university and the rest of the world. This is intentionally general enough to hopefully include many ideas on methods, theory, and substantive topics.

This project is still in its formative stages, so if there are any oversights or suggestions on what should also be explicitly included please let me know.

Please send: a description of your project or technique, if available a sample of the project, a brief analysis of how this project has been useful for public sociologies (500 words or less please) along with a cover letter and brief bio to

Public Sociogies Working Group
c/o Teaching Resource Committee
326 Lincoln Hall
702 South Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801

Your idea will be credited in the final guide with your name and instititution/affiliation, or whatever your preference (as long as it is within the editorial guidelines). If you have any questions, email me at el.murphy at gmail.com (thanks to Alan Schussman for the gmail account).

Deadline for submissions: September 15, 2004. Hopefully, by this time your syllabi will be complete.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Obama

Permission to gush, please. Barack Obama makes me proud to be from Illinois. Just when I'm almost completely jaded, here comes Obama. I hope you got to see his speech at the convention. It's worth a few goose bumps.

Update: here is a link to his speech (courtesy of librarian.net blogging at the convention) in case you didn't get to see it... really, goose bumps.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Grad Unions

While our fellow grads at private universities have been stripped of their rights to organize and be recognized as employees (as has been discussed by others), we grads (or most of us) at UIUC won the right to be recognized by our university last year. (Our union has statistics on what percentage of courses we teach or assist in teaching, if curious, and how much money we save the university by paying us rather than a PhD-in-hand). This summer (or over a year later, which is apparently typical) the hardworking GEO negotiators have finally come to a tentative contract! This means lower fees(!), annual 3% raises (to cover the cost of inflation) until the contract is revisited in a couple years, a little better health care plan in the meantime, grievance procedure, and more thorough instructor training. Modest gains, but unions matter. We haven't forgotten you grads at private u's!

Shout outs to the GEO at University of Michigan, their contract helped as a model as well as some of their organizers. Shout outs also to the supportive UIUC profs and former Chancellor Nancy Cantor (who made a huge difference in the university climate)! I'm sure there was a lot of others making a difference, see the GEO website for more info.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Social Position or Standpoint

In sociological analyses specifically concerned with subjects, often social position or standpoint is used to understand the subject's social location and subsequently meaning for her/him. Julia Adams and Tasleem Padamsee use social position to understand this in their 2001 article in Social Politics. R.W. Connell uses standpoint in his 1990 article Theory and Society but for institutions rather than individuals. Standpoint is a common concept used in Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins (2000), to designate an epistemological approach (a way of knowing) materially rooted in experience.

There needs to be a clear distinction between a subject or institution's social position and standpoint. Social position is passive and descriptive. It requires nothing other than being. However, standpoint requires a social position to take an active way of knowing consciously rooted in the social position, so maybe it is a self-identified understanding of one's social position within the larger societal structure. In this way, it can also be explanatory. This is the way I understand it and is most often used in work in some way identified as Black Feminist Thought.

This would clear up the fuzziness in Adams and Padamsee's usage I think. However, then there is Connell, whose subjects are institutions, not the people who make up the institutions. So can an institution have a standpoint that presupposes consciousness* of the social position? For example, the U.S. military as an institution has a social position in relation to U.S. society, and transnational imperialism. But can it have a standpoint? Wouldn't this require some coherence within the military as institution itself, not just the hegemonic line of violent masculinity? This seems like a slippery slope. Is there a better way to communicate what Connell is trying to convey, which is more than social position but I'm not convinced can actually achieve a unified, but maybe at best hegemonic, standpoint for institutions?

*by conscious I only mean self-knowing

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Sociologists, Sociologies, and Groupthink

Man, it's nice to have Ehrenreich writing op-eds! Groupthink, duh! But I wish she would've talked more about why groupthink was so critical in making (rather than allowing) the past two years happen. Where's the power in the discussion? Groupthink without power sounds innocuous.

Here is a good opportunity to bring up something has been annoying me about the poor distinctions being made in anticipation of the ASA conference this summer about public sociologies. From various corners of the blogosphere as well as other discussions on public sociologies, the debate is being framed as public vs professional (c’mon a binary?). Not only this, but in terms of sociologists rather than sociologies.

This annoys me on many levels. First sociologists rarely occupy solely any corner on the theoretical 2x2 table that Burawoy offers as a way of understanding the discipline of sociology analytically. If you think you do, congratulations – here is your label. (There are many reasons he suggests understanding sociology in such a way, which he has stated thoroughly should those displeased with the suggestion read what he has to say and then debate the approach rather than ridicule the suggestion outright.) Therefore, it would likely be inaccurate in most cases to actually label someone as a professional OR public without proper qualifications – unless you are Jane Addams, who by the way also did academic work and so also deserves some qualifications– but, if the label fits, wear it.

Sociologists often do many types of sociologies. For those of you who consider yourselves strictly “professional” sociologists, that’s cool – your choice – (and in my most polite and irreverent tone to the more rude arguers) stop knocking others of us cavalierly for showing it worthwhile, and indeed necessary, to not ONLY talk to each other in scientific jargon (which by the way is fine for certain purposes - I like my Bourdieu-jargon as well as anyone) but ALSO deem it important to communicate sociological knowledge to the actual people with which we identify (beyond those with PhD’s). This is not so different than the way Du Bois practiced sociology, who I think most can agree threw the field of sociology forward.

Secondly, this is a tired debate. It is more interesting to finally grant that public sociologies are relevant to the discipline and contribute to the creativity and innovation of sociology, as well as keeping us connected to various publics in pertinent ways as individuals and as sociologists. And then, finally, debate who in the heck are our publics. If this isn’t your bag, once again, that’s cool. Do your analysis in your office, like most of us admittedly do. I doubt most sociologists are personally offended if you do as this is what we (or maybe just I) grew up dreaming about (well at least the part about having an office with a giant old desk with papers scattered everywhere and built-in bookshelves lined with great books I can masterfully recall on command and don’t forget the picture window looking over some grassy knoll where students are debating, perhaps I was a strange child, I also had a Broadway dream I won’t go into, suffice it to say hopefully some part of the office thing still works out), except when you start dogging colleagues for deeming it important to get out there and practice sociology in other ways.

I don’t think it will be surprising for most sociologists that we don’t all come from privilege and that some of us have a deeply personal stake in promoting the interests of particular groups with which we experientially identify. This is often a source of our inspiration, which cannot, and arguably should not, be separated from the way we do sociology. Again think of Du Bois. And first and foremost, for sociological knowledge to mean a thing to most publics, it has to be relatable not so esoteric that only the scholars in our sub sub areas of the discipline understand our jargon.

So as much as Michael Moore is at times like fingernails on a chalkboard, you can’t exactly ignore him. But thank goodness. At least he offers alternatives and debate with other ways of questioning that are too often determinedly squelched by, among other things, groupthink. He encourages looking at social structures and power and how they affect the lives we live, like whether votes of particular groups of people are counted. Whatever you think about him and the questions he chooses to ask in his voice-overs, he is an organic intellectual (in the Gramscian sense) that people respond to rather than ignore, promoting in some broad sense a sociological imagination.

So, see you in San Francisco.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Sociology Blogger Co-winner of Dissertation Award

Update: go to Kickass Sociology to see post by Tina F. "Brian G. Kicks Ass!!"

Winning Bloggers posted by Brayden King

Public Sociologists posted by Kieran Healy