Month: April 2012

Texting in Class: What can we learn from Mead?

Over at the excellent Sociology Source, Nathan Palmer recently shared some thoughts about dealing with texting in class.  I’d be surprised if this reflection on classroom authority doesn’t resonate with most of us who think about how to effectively teach in the smart phone saturated college setting.  I’d never considered the Weberian take on the issue, but I do regularly talk to students about the meaning of cell phones in the classroom, especially when I teach Goffman (presentation of self), and Mills (cheerful robots).  However, the classical theorist that most informs my approach to limiting phone use during class is George Herbert Mead.  In particular, I tell students that in “The Fusion of the I and the Me in Social Activities,” from Mind, Self, & Society, Mead suggests that keeping the phone in your pocket could make class a ‘religious’ experience.

Self and Society in the classroom

Mead describes the self as a process in which the active “I” adjusts to the social control of the “me.” The “me” is our understanding of the expectations and attitudes of others that we take into account when we act in social situations.  To become a self in society, Mead argues, we learn to take the ‘role of the other’ so that we can successfully adjust our conduct according to social expectations.  When our gestures produce the same response from others as they do in ourselves, we can complete a successful act. (more…)


Borders as violence

Yesterday the New York Times ran a ‘room for debate’ piece about state immigration laws.  Mostly these brief essays focused on the proper role of federal and state governments in establishing and enforcing immigration law.  This is a fairly common point of debate in recent discussions of immigration in the U.S.  I’m not as familiar with immigration law as I should be, but there is a question about the significance and social meaning of borders that always comes to mind when I read about immigration.

I assume that most national borders, and it’s certainly the case with the northern and southern U.S. borders, were  established (and are continually enacted) through violence.  While the violent origin of the U.S. southern border is rather frequently alluded to, it’s rarely considered as a significant consideration in contemporary discussions of border politics.  My question about the significance of borders is this:  If borders were established violently, then are those who work to defend their location and legal authority actively legitimizing and enacting that violence? Further, are those who choose not to consider the relevance of the initial violence passively legitimizing the violent origin of nation-space?

Starting from here

A number of scholars influence my approach to thinking about rituals of community and exclusion, domination and liberation, of power generally.  That sentence certainly gives clues to those who’ve done some reading about these issues.  For a few reasons, it’s worth my time to write briefly about the writers who have influenced my thinking thus far, and what I take away from their social commentaries.  First, I hope that it helps me identify useful ways to synthesize these ideas and to note informative points of contention.  Second, I hope it helps me see holes in my approach to this work I’m doing.  For example, the voices I comment on below are clearly gendered, raced, and otherwise privileged.  To ignore that as I start to think about rituals of power would be irresponsible.  I must also be sure to actually do something about it.  I also note that I regularly wonder how much of my inspiration is a result of misunderstanding.

First, I’m reading a lot of C. Wright Mills (or maybe I’m reading certain selections, a lot).  This is probably no surprise as Mills has made some of the most well known statements, within sociology, about power and individual freedom.  Mills forces me to think about what it means to be free given the intersection of biography with history and fate.  More specifically, we live and act within the rules of institutions that we defend intentionally or implicitly.  It seems clear to me that we frequently are blind to the inhumanity of our actions because we default, as part of the drift, to bureaucratic rationality.  So often one’s defense of an institution takes the form of legitimacy claims that seem meant to malign (imagined) radicals, but also silence those who might otherwise simply wish to engage in constructive conversation with no intention to dismantle said institution. (more…)

Here’s how this happened

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a few weeks now after I read another blogger convincingly suggest that it’s a great way to work through one’s thoughts.  I’m a sociologist and I’m hoping to move in some new directions with my research (I’m the first one who has thought to do that, right?), but shifting fields is a big, confusing task.  The amount of work I anticipate has been making it hard for me to really get started in this new direction, but it also (pathetically?) was probably keeping me from even starting a blog.  I’m afraid I’ll end up just doing what I’ve always done (discipline-wise), and that my blog will fade away after 3 to 5 unread posts.  Still, I started it just now.  Well, why?

I’m a baseball fan, and this year I’m taking a new approach to baseball.  As a Brewer fan, typically there comes a point in a season when I give up on them and stop watching the game altogether.  That’s too bad because I like baseball simply as a game.  So, this year I’ve decided to take a purer approach and just appreciate ‘the game.’  As part of that goal I started reading a blog called ‘And That Happened‘ in which Craig Calcaterra (who is fantastic) briefly summarizes all of the prior day’s games.  It’s great, and not only that, it typically has a number of funny and even insightful reader comments.  Internet comments are rarely funny or insightful.  Often they are ignorant, hateful, or just too random to make much sense.  In fact, this is one of the things I’d like to start thinking and writing about when I move in my ‘new direction.’  What kind of ‘conversation’ happens on the internet?  Can there be ‘deliberation?’  Can there be anything like the emotional and personal connection that can develop off-line, even among relative strangers?  I don’t know right now, but I’d like to.  Others have written great essays about these questions that I need to read.

But, still I haven’t answered the question: why did I start blogging today?  Well, it’s because I read And That Happened and had the urge to make a comment.  A snarky, one-line, stupid joke of a comment about the DH being socialist.  To comment I had to register, and that happened to be with Word Press, and so I went through the steps for two reasons.  The proximate cause was my desire to make a snarky, stupid web comment.  The ultimate cause, I hope, was that I’d like my sociology to be a craft, and maybe a blog will help.


Addendum: I see that my stupid comment has 1 thumbs up, and 3 thumbs down.  I think that’s a positive thing, really.