Spring 2018 Special Topics Courses in Sociology

Seminars in Sociology (01:920:421)

Silence and Absence – 920:422 sec 01 

Why do we consider Barack Obama a black man whose mother was white rather than a white man whose father was black? Why does adding a slice of cheese transform a plain hamburger into a “cheeseburger” whereas adding some ketchup does not turn it into a “ketchupburger”? Why do we use terms such as working mom, nonwhites, and openly gay, yet no such terms as working dad, non-blacks, and openly straight? Such questions point to the kind of cultural silences and absences with which we are surrounded every day. By specifically examining what our culture seemingly ignores, we will develop the ability to “see” absences and “hear” silences. That will allow us to expose our culture’s main “blind spots” and reveal some of the most fundamental yet normally taken-for-granted social assumptions underlying our everyday life.

Eviatar Zerubavel is Board of Governors and Distinguished Professor of Sociology. He is the author of twelve books and dozens of articles.

Food, Culture, and Society  – 920:422 sec 03

This course draws upon a variety of perspectives to examine the social processes that influence how food is produced, distributed, prepared, and consumed in the Global North. Our focus will be on the production and consumption sides of the food system. We will cover the political economy of the food system, the sociology of nutrition, labor in the food system, gender relations in foodwork, and race and ethnicity in food culture and foodways.

The readings cover many subfields of the social sciences, including history, environmental sociology, American studies, sociology of science, gender, intersectionality theory, and cultural studies. Within each of these perspectives, food is used as a lens to examine the complex social and economic relations that shape food systems and foodways. Our objective in this course is to consider how the cultural valuation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food, dietary advice, the gendered division of foodwork, labor injustices, and unequal access to healthy food are socially produced, and reflect a tension between individual agency and social structure.

 Norah MacKendrick is Assistant Professor of Sociology. She teaches courses on food, gender and environmental health. Her most recent project, soon to be a book with University of California Press, examines why consumers turn to organic foods and non-toxic products to protect themselves from chemical exposures.

Sociology of Higher Education  – 920:422 sec 05

In this book-based seminar we will delve into the Sociological perspective on the undergraduate experience at both the level of the students and the institution. Our investigation will cover a broad range of schools including big and small, private and public, elite and non-elite. We’ll look at what makes for a successful undergraduate education and what students do and do not learn in college. How students approach their time in school and how colleges and universities respond to that approach will also be studied. Stratification in higher education will be investigated via the reproduction of inequality and how schools attempt to climb prestige rankings. Town-gown relationships and student crime and victimization are also on the agenda. Finally, we’ll study the place of big-time sports in higher education for schools and students.

Randall Smith is Associate Professor of Sociology. He has taught courses in Higher Education and Society, Intercollegiate Athletics, and Sociology of Sport among others. His current research looks into what big-time sports bring to the host institution including (perhaps) more applications, better students, more donations, and greater student retention. His most recent project is a study of student fandom at football games.

Historical Sociology - 920:422 sec 06

Societies constantly change, for sure. Sometimes social transformations are so slow / subtle that we barely notice them; at other times change is so rapid / profound that we can hardly keep up. Although, strictly speaking, changing social relations provide the most rewarding raw material for sociology, part of our discipline has, sadly, moved away from discussing change, let alone time and history, resulting in what a German sociologist, Norbert Elias, lamented as sociologists’ “retreat into the present.” To signal their interest in processes of change and issues of integrating at least some historical knowledge in sociological analysis, scholars interested in questions of over-time transformations refer to “their” area as Historical Sociology.

This course is a senior-year seminar on social change, covering some fascinating ideas in historical sociology. Class conversations will be centered on readings and films, along with the occasional photographs and music, all addressing various aspects of the ways in which it is possible to capture, depict and understand the past and the present, and the changes that have taken us from the former to the latter. 

József Böröcz is a Professor of Sociology. He teaches courses on globalization, the foundations of sociological theory, and historical sociology. He works on how global / transnational social relations interact with social life "on the ground", on the global geopolitics of economic, political and cultural power, as well as the legacies of state socialism and, more broadly, how the past affects the present. To learn about his scholarly interests, go to http://rutgers.academia.edu/jborocz or http://borocz.net . 

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