Adapting Sociological Teaching and Learning for Online Environments

ImageA new sociological study finds that students who study online perceive that they have learned less in comparison to students who attend face-to-face lectures. The researchers, Kelly Bergstrand and Scott Savage, find that online students also feel they have been treated with less respect by their lecturers and they generally rate their courses more negatively. Is there an issue with the way sociology is taught specifically that does not translate well to an online environment, or is there something broader at play? Today’s post examines the skills and resources that sociology demands of students, and questions whether the training and delivery of these skills are being adequately supported by the higher education system. I also discuss the influence of larger online courses that are offered “free” to the public and how this relates to funding cuts and a push for online learning in the tertiary sector.

Continue reading

“There Are No Unclean People, Only Unclean Systems”: The Sociology of Religion and the Delivery of Social Justice

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

The Atlantic has followed Rev. Tuck Taylor, a mother of two and an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina, USA. She is one of “thousands” of citizens who have coordinated a series of civil disobedience protests against various social welfare issues. They call their protest “Moral Monday,” a designated day where citizens descend upon official public buildings to protest using music, speeches and prayer. Ordinary citizens, academics and clerics volunteer to lead the protests and nominate themselves to be arrested in order to protest diverse concerns such as cuts to unemployment and health assistance, taxes and repeal of environmental measures.

Rev. Taylor. Photo: The Atlantic

Rev. Tuck Taylor. Photo: The Atlantic

While the Reverend may lose her job with her Church, she sees that it is her civil and religious duty to voice her discontent with her local government. The Reverend says:

“There are no unclean people — only unclean systems.”

This is a great case study for studying the intersections of the sociology of religion and the sociology of politics. Continue reading

What The Sociology of Shoes Says About Gender Inequality

17th Century Persian Men's Shoe. Via BBC

17th Century Persian Men’s Shoe. Via BBC

By Zuleyka Zevallos

High heel shoes were once a status symbol for powerful men, from horse riding soldiers in 16th Century Persia, to European aristocrats in the 17th Century. Since the Enlightenment period, heels became associated with “irrational” fashion and pornography, and so “impractical” shoes became a symbol of femininity. What changed? Today’s post examines how history and fashion trends related to high heels help us to see how gender is a performance that entrenches inequality. Continue reading

Japan’s Disposable Workforce: Alienation, Suicide and Social Responsibility

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Shiho Fukada’s Pulitzer Centre project on Japan’s “disposable workers” focuses on people who are precariously employed in casual and “dead end” jobs. They are underpaid, working long hours but without any of the benefits or sense of stability of full time employment. This affects people who are homeless as well as white collar workers who are driven to suicide due to mental and physical exhaustion. I see that Fukada’s photo essay offers an insightful visual critique of economic progress and the rapid increase of an “underclass” in one of the world’s most advanced societies. I argue that Fukada’s work might be understood through the sociological concept of anomie, a term that describes the social alienation that follows a society’s shift in morals and values. In this case, I explore how a cultural change in attitude means that workers are less valued in Japan, leading to socio-economic and mental health problems. I draw a comparison between the Japanese and the Australian workforce. I conclude by showing how sociologists seek to help governments, employers, developers and community organisations work together to better support a sustainable and ethical economic future.

Shiho Fukada via Pulitzer Centre

Shiho Fukada via Pulitzer Centre

Continue reading

“Culture of Silence”: Why Common Sense Stops Us From Seeing Substance Abuse in Middle Class Families

Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr. CC

By Zuleyka Zevallos

The British not for profit organisation 4Children has published a study that finds parents who are wealthier tend to drink and use drugs more frequently than people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Most middle class parents do not see their alcohol and drug use as having a negative impact on their families. At the same time, these parents are overwhelmingly worried about substance abuse in wider society. These findings defy common sense. First, the results go against the social convention that sustenance abuse is a bigger problem for poorer people. Second, if middle class parents are consuming drugs and alcohol at higher levels, why don’t they see this as a problem for themselves, when it causes them alarm in others? The 4Children study suggests that there is a “culture of silence” about substance abuse in middle class families that British society is not prepared to acknowledge. I use this  study to make a point about the social construction of deviance. This means that, because there is already a high degree of moral panic and stigma about being poor, drugs and alcohol abuse is seen as symptomatic of poverty. Middle class groups enjoy certain social benefits, which include not having their personal problems define their character. This is why drinking and alcohol abuse is seen as a private affair for middle class families, and not a social illness. Poor people and other minorities are not entitled to such privacy. I show how social perceptions of deviance are shaped by class privilege and the problematic values that lie beneath “common sense.” My analysis is not an indictment of people who are drug and alcohol dependent; instead, I seek to move away from frameworks of shame and stigma generally associated with substance use and abuse. My post explores why the personal troubles of some groups are positioned as a public issue for others.

Continue reading

Sociology for What, Who, Where and How? Situating Applied Sociology in Action

Photo by mapgirl271 via Flickr. Text: The Other Sociologist

By Zuleyka Zevallos

The discipline of sociology has grappled with several overlapping issues regarding the purpose and utility of our profession beyond its intellectual pursuit. Debates about the social impact of sociology have been historically centred on three questions relevant to applied sociology – which I define here as sociology conducted outside universities for particular clients. These questions are: sociology for what?sociology for whom?; and sociology for where? In today’s post, I will discuss the who, what and where of sociology, before introducing a fourth question that is so taken-for-granted we don’t spend much time talking about it in any concrete way. That is: how do we actually do sociology outside traditional academic research? We assume sociologists can go out into the world and apply their training to different problems. But what kind of problems do we work on and how do we actually carry out the work in different places? I argue  that applied sociology is set up as the “other” of academic sociology because of the context in which we practice our craft. This stops sociologists from engaging with one another effectively, and hinders the transformational work we do separately with our respective audiences.

I seek to build upon the framework discussed in this post for a series exploring the practicalities of doing sociology outside academia. I hope that the ideas explored here and in future posts can open up dialogue about how to better address collaboration  between academic and applied sociologists.

Continue reading

Challenging the Social Value of Child Marriage

Photo by Stephanie Sinclair for National Geographic. Two child brides are pictured with their older husbands in Yemen.

By Zuleyka Zevallos

The 11th of October 2012 was the inaugural Day of the Girl. This year, the focus was on the eradication of child marriage. Around the world, 70 million girls were married before they reached the age of 18. My post today explores how the interrelated issues of gender, education and child marriage might be addressed by sociology. My focus is primarily on girl brides. While young boys are also married, the research I review shows that the adverse effects of child marriage have chronic health and socio-economic impact on young girls. The “value” attached to child brides refers to the cultural and economic issues underlying child marriage. Young girls are married off according to dominant beliefs about preserving women’s “honour” (that is, ensuring virginity before marriage), as well as the costs of raising girls. Child marriage has been linked to people trafficking in extreme situations. In most other cases it maintains the status quo in poor or underdeveloped areas, where economic deprivation is used to justify men’s dominance over young women’s reproductive and life choices. In order to eliminate child marriage, communities need to be shown practical demonstrations that delaying marriage increases everyone’s welfare. Continue reading

The “Cult of the Clitoris”: Policing Women’s Sexuality in England During WWI

Maude Allen. Via American Historical Review

By Zuleyka Zevallos

This story is engrossing: Maud Allen was a Canada-born dancer who found fame in Germany in the early 1900s. She performed in the Oscar Wilde play, Vision of Salome, famous for “the dance of the seven veils.” When Allen was in her 20s, her brother was executed for killing two girls. She changed her name to escape this notoriety but later found herself the subject of infamy, drawn into a litigation case defending her name against charges of “sexual perversion.” Allen’s artistic sensuality and the fact that she was a lesbian were weaved into a conspiracy plot involving the highest office of British parliament. The Daily Mail recently reported on Allen’s life as a new play is being produced in San Francisco which is based on this salacious court case. Allen’s story makes an excellent historical case study of the criminalisation of femininity and homosexuality in Britain at the end of World War I. I discuss the contradictory meanings of Allen’s dancing and her embodiment of the character Salome, a figure that has come to represent the dangerous qualities of female heterosexuality. The cultural significance of Allen’s dancing and her court case takes on multiple meanings in light of Allen’s reality as a lesbian woman in the 1920s. I use Allen’s story to examine the history of the clitoris and its cultural mystique in relation to cis-women’s* bodily experiences of pleasure in connection to dancing and sex. Continue reading

After Years in Limbo, the New Australian Asylum Seeker Program Promises to be More Humane

Painting by Syed Ruhollah Musavi. Photographed by Newtown Grafitti.

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Australia’s refugee policies have been increasingly problematic since the 2001 lead up to the Federal election, which was focused on “the problem of boat people” and the so-called “Tampa Boat Crisis”. A new program that links asylum seekers with Australian families is causing some controversy, but it promises to be a more humane alternative to off shore detention of refugees.

In August 2011, the media beamed images of refugees being rescued off an overcrowded, sinking fishing vessel that was stranded six hours away from one of Australia’s offshore territories, Christmas Island. The Tampa was the ship that answered their distress call for rescue.

The then-Liberal government and mainstream media interpreted the images of women and children seemingly being plunged into the sea for rescue as proof that people smugglers were manufacturing sympathy for people seeking to enter Australia under a refugee status. Sociologist Katharine Betts argues that support for immigration had been decreasing steadily since the late 1980s whilst support for border control had been rising. The Tampa crisis seemed to intensify public anxiety about border protection. Australian sociologist Peter Gale argued that the subsequent public debates were bound up with racist fears of Muslim migrants.  Other advocates and academics further note that such xenophobia intensified after the September 11 attacks in the USA(Betts disputes such assertions, arguing that the Tampa debate reflects public desire for national cohesion.)  Continue reading

Ashaninca Hallucinations: Challenging Western Concepts of Medicinal Knowledge

Pablo Amaringo. Ayahuasca Visions.

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Last year, I read about anthropologist Jeremy Narby’s participant observation field research with the Ashaninca, an indigenous group living in the Peruvian Amazon. His research is detailed in the book, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, as well as the follow up,  Intelligence in NatureI’ve thought a lot about this research since. Narby’s research focuses on the way Western science constructs medical knowledge in ways that do not accommodate mystical experiences from Other cultures. Western medicine has come to adopt the Ashaninca’s knowledge of rare plants, as they have been proven to positively affect health. Nevertheless, Western scientists refuse to take into consideration how the Ashaninca gain this knowledge because it is derived through drug-induced hallucinations. This is in spite of the fact that these hallucinations come from the same plant ecosystem that Western science  is eager to plunder. How do we reconcile this knowledge divide? Narby argues that the Ashaninca’s understanding of plants and ‘alternative medicine’ must be understood in concert with their pathways to this knowledge. This includes the hallucinations which are used to commune with nature.

In his interview with The Best of Our Knowledge, Narby reflects on his research amongst the Ashaninca (Asháninka or Asháninca). Narby talks about how taking the hallucinogen plant ayahuasca changed his ideas about consciousness and Western knowledge. Narby conducted the research as part of his PhD dissertation at Stanford University in the USA. He describes himself as a former ‘Marxist anthropologist’ who was unable to make much sense out of his field research as a postgraduate student. In the end, Narby did not use the ayahuasca data in his thesis. It took him eight years to return to his data, but he hopes his analysis will show Western societies a new way to think about human perception. Continue reading