Public Sociology Projects/Works

Public Sociology at George Mason

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Public Sociology Practice

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”  -Karl Marx

And, this is what Public Sociology aims to do.

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Sociology is Public Sociology when it includes the following*:

  1. A sociological theoretical framework for outlining the nature of the social problem being addressed.
  2. A current and comprehensive examination of the sociological literature on the social problem.
  3. Sociological research methods either developing empirical measure or analyzing empirical evidence (quantitatively or qualitatively, official sources and ethnographic sources, etc) exploring the nature of the social problem.
  4. Dissemination in conventional scholarly outlets (peer-reviewed journals, university or academic press publishers, etc.) as well as dissemination for broader public use (such as testimony to Congress, or presentation to the City Council,) to advocate for a sociologically-informed solution to the social problem.

This page is intended to promote awareness and support for public sociology endeavors.  The following past, on-going, and up-coming projects are considered to be works of public sociology, and they aim to promote social justice in various ways and through diverse avenues.

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Death Row Exoneree Projects

Saundra D. Westervelt (University of North Carolina Greensboro; author of Shifting the Blame: How Victimization Became a Criminal Defense.)

Kimberly J. Cook (Chair of sociology and criminology department at University of North Carolina Wilmington; author of Divided Passions: Public Opinions on Abortion and the Death Penalty.)

Through sociological research, Cook and Westervelt help the public to understand exonerees in ways that go beyond basic descriptive and journalistic accounts.

Since 2003, with the help of funding from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the American Sociological Association, we’ve conducted 18 life-story interviews with death row exonerees. After years of hearing their stories told by attorneys, judges, and the media, we wanted to give them a venue to speak for themselves and claim their own stories.

They came from varying backgrounds and had spent anywhere from two years to 26 years in prison and one year to 18 years on death row. All were convicted of heinous and stigmatizing crimes.

Read more:

Westervelt_and_Cook_2008_Contexts_CopingWithInnocence

Publication: “Framing innocents: the wrongly convicted as victims of state harm”

Saundra D. Westervelt & Kimberly J. Cook

Published online: 8 January 2010

# Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

We adapt the victimology of ‘state harms’ framework outlined by Kauzlarich et al. (Critical Criminology, 10(3), 173–194, 2001) to understand the post-exoneration experiences of 18 death row exonerees. Kauzlarich et al. develop six points of commonality shared by most victims of state crime. Application of this framework to death row exonerees highlights the role the state plays in creating and exacerbating the harms they suffer. This analysis also lays a foundation for further theoretical inquiry into the wrongful conviction of the innocent as a form of state crime.

See the link below for the complete article:

Westervelt_and_Cook_2010aa

For a book chapter (“Feminist Research Methods in Theory and Action”) related to this death row exoneree work, see the link below:

Westervelt_Cook_2007_NEW

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Cultural Citizenship, by Dr. Toby Miller

This project, Cultural Citizenship (Temple, 2007), has just come out. It argues that we are in a crisis of belonging, a population crisis, of who, what, when, and where. More and more people feel as though they do not belong; more and more people are seeking to belong; and more and more people are not counted as belonging. Cultural Citizenship is concerned with the way this crisis is both registered and held in check in the United States, through practices of government, consumption, risk, and moral panic in popular culture, specifically television. With economic welfare disowned as a responsibility of the sovereign-state, and pushed onto individuals and communities, governing at a distance is the norm. Traditional means of state control, via instruction or restraint, have been added to by a project of neoliberalism that seeks to manage subjectivity through culture­-ironically, the very thing supposedly imperiled by threats to belonging. After some discussions of theories of culture and citizenship that exemplify public sociology, the book focuses on television and citizenship through case studies of war coverage since 2001 and coverage of food and environmental issues.

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The Meritocracy Myth

Stephen J. McNamee and Robert K. Miller, Jr.

University of North Carolina Wilmington

This book challenges the widely held American belief in meritocracy—that people get out of the system what they put into it based on individual merit.  The book first reviews each of the four components of merit—being talented, having the right attitude, working hard, and having high moral character—in terms of its impact on getting ahead.  The book then identifies various non-merit factors that suppress, neutralize, or negate the effects of merit.  These non-merit factors include the effects of inheritance as unequal starting points in the race to get ahead, the effects of who you know (social capital) and “fitting in” (cultural capital), being at the right place at the right time (luck), unequal access to educational opportunities, decline in rates self-employment and the prospects of being a “self-made” person, and discrimination on the bases of race, sex, age, sexual orientation, physical disability, region, religion, and physical appearance.  A purely meritocratic system may not ultimately be either desirable or possible.  Nevertheless, if the system were to more closely approximate a true meritocracy, societal-level reforms would be necessary. In the meantime, the myth of meritocracy is itself harmful because it provides an incomplete explanation for success and failure, mistakenly exalting the rich and unjustly condemning the poor.

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There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster: Race, Class and Hurricane Katrina
by Chester Hartman and Gregory D. Squires, editors

There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster is the first comprehensive critical book on the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. The disaster will go down on record as one of the worst in American history, not least because of the government’s inept and cavalier response. But it’s also a huge story for other reasons. The impact of the hurricane was uneven, and race and class were deeply implicated in the unevenness. It was not by accident that the poorest and blackest neighborhoods were the ones that were buried under water. Also, the response underscored the impoverishment of social policy — or what passes for it — in George W. Bush’s America. Finally, New Orleans is not just any place – it’s a great American city with a rich history. What happened there can tell us a great deal about the state of urban and regional planning in contemporary America.

All royalties generated from the sale of There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster will be donated to:

Emergency Communities

http://www.emergencycommunities.org/

Emergency Communities is a nonpartisan and nondenominational organization comprised of men and women of all ages, races, religions, and ethnicities. E.C. provides rapid, effective, and community-based relief that not only saves lives, but helps rebuild them. The organization creates safe spaces for victims by providing hot meals, medical care, legal advice, and education. Born from the horrific Hurricane Katrina disaster, Emergency Communities supplements traditional disaster relief models by involving people who come from both within and outside the stricken community.

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Steve Nock

Steve Nock has been collaborating with Laura Sanchez (Bowling Green State University) and Jim Wright (University of Central Florida) on a multi-year, multi-method longitudinal project to evaluate the design, implementation, and measurable outcomes of marriage and divorce reform in Louisiana and several other states.

The specific target of their research is the legal innovation known as covenant marriage. In Louisiana, Arizona, and Arkansas, couples elect one of two forms of marriage. Standard marriages are the familiar ones with no-fault divorce, and no requirements for counseling. Covenant marriages are governed by stricter fault-based divorce rules, require premarital education, and require efforts to resolve problems prior to a divorce.

Couples sign a declaration binding them to the terms of covenant marriage, thereby foregoing the possibility of legally obtaining a non-covenant divorce in another state that does not recognize this form of marriage (or, indeed, in their home state).

The results of their work indicate that marriage and divorce reform, as popular as it may be, is very difficult to implement as designed.

Fewer than 2% of newly married couples elect covenant marriage. Those that do tend to be more religious and traditional on a wide range of issues. They have divorce rates only half that of couples in standard marriages. Some of this lower divorce rate may be due to required premarital education. Most of it, however, is due to the type of religious individual or couple that elects covenant marriage.

In the past decade, every state in the US has experimented with some policy or law designed to reduce divorce, reduce unwed births, or strengthen marriage. The project on covnenat marriage is one of many that is intended to evaluate this legal and policy trend in America.

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A Needs Assessment of The Homeless of Birmingham and Jefferson County
by Mark LaGory, Ph.D.
Homelessness is first and foremost the result of a housing market problem. Additionally, wages and benefits for the working poor fail to keep pace with the cost of housing and other essential services. Even in the midst of economic growth, the lowest income groups continue to lose ground. Current homeless programs do not address the underlying forces producing these problems. They do a better job of helping communities like Birmingham and Jefferson County manage the homeless problem rather than solve it (National Alliance to End Homelessness 2000). Thus, instead of being well along the way to eliminating the problem of homelessness in Birmingham and Jefferson County, the community treads water, struggling with a significant, unrelenting problem. In recognition of this fact communities are being encouraged by HUD to develop new strategies to address the homeless problem, particularly relating to problems of the chronically homeless. Gathering valid, reliable data on the local homeless problem is a critical step in designing such strategies.

This report was funded by City of Birmingham Community Development Department and the Jefferson County Office of Planning and Development, and is intended to provide reliable, systematic data that can be used in fine-tuning and implementing an area-wide continuum of care plan, and developing a “Ten Year Strategy to End Homelessness.” The data presented here provide critical information concerning basic characteristics of the homeless, their residential histories, the underlying causes of their homelessness, health and well-being, service use patterns and basic service needs, sources of income and assistance, and social capital. Such information is essential for these governmental units, Metropolitan Birmingham Services for the Homeless (MBSH), and other local planning agencies in identifying various subgroups of homeless with specific needs and locating gaps in existing services.

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Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen

From Maine to California, thousands of communities kept out African Americans (or sometimes Chinese Americans, Jewish Americans, etc.) by force, law, or custom. These communities are sometimes called “sundown towns” because some of them posted signs at their city limits reading, typically, “Nigger, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On You In ___.” Some towns are still all white on purpose. When I began this research, I expected to find about 10 sundown towns in Illinois (my home state) and perhaps 50 across the country. Instead, I have found more than 440 in Illinois and thousands across the United States.

What we seek is information confirming that a given town did keep blacks out, either through the use of restrictive covenants throughout the town, violence or threats of same, bad behavior by white individuals, an ordinance, realtor steering, bank redlining, or other formal or informal policies. Also, although in the past many sundown towns kept out other groups, such as Mexicans, Asian Americans, Jews, etc., today most sundown towns have accepted all but blacks. However, we are still interested in them because they kept out (and may still keep out) blacks. Finally, some towns have given up being sundown, usually between 1970 and today, yet we are still interested in them owing to their past.

A first step, then, is to look up the census information on racial composition in various years. Next, local histories, newspapers, and oral histories are important in locating sundown towns.

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Gene Shackman

The Global Social Change Research Project examines the ways in which societies are constructed and change over time. Present reports include global demographic, social, political, technological, economic and quality of life changes.

A main goal of the project is to produce a comprehensive web based report of how societies change, and the site serves as a web location where links are provided for all of the data used in the study. The site serves as a starting point for further research since data sets are available when possible. Planned future reports include examining the relationships among the various aspects of society and change in smaller regions or in individual states.

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Dr. John Rice, Dr. Marty Kozloff, and Eric Irizarry, MA
The UNCW: Hillcrest Reading Program is one of a number of programs being offered at the Community Campus in Wilmington, NC. The impetus behind the Reading Program was and is to try to reduce the enduring achievement gap between white and black children in New Hanover County.

John Rice, an associate professor of sociology, Martin Kozloff, the Watson Distinguished Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, and Eric irizarry, an outstanding graduate student in the Master’s in School Administration program worked in conjunction with several colleagues to plan and design the program.

In early August, 2008 we recruited volunteer tutors from among undergraduate students in sociology and education classes. We also recruited children for the program by going door-to-door in the housing development, as well as by signing some kids up at the Hillcrest Community Open House Event held on September 20th.

We initiated the program on Monday, August 22nd. It got off to a slow start: the first day, only three children showed up. Eventually, we tutored 17 children from September 22nd to December 11th, 2009. Currently, the program continues to see progress in its students and will continue its efforts to close the achievement gap among black and white students in New Hanover County.

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This list was complied and posted by Abby Reiter, GMU.

You can also find many of these projects outlined on the ASA’s Task Force on Institutionalizing Public Sociologies website :  http://pubsoc.wisc.edu/index.html
* This explanation is taken from UNCW’s Sociology website
Note: Because of a discrepancy within the academy of exactly what necessarily constitutes “public sociology” work, it must be noted that some of the above listed projects might not be cosidered as public sociology work by everyone. For more details regarding this note, please see the below source.
Clawson, Zussman, Misra, Gerstel, Stokes, Anderton, and Burawoy, eds. 2007. Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Scholars Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-First Century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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