Now that summer is here, I’m hoping to post some of the things I did in my “Women and Work” class from January – March. I had a great time with the class and tried out a bunch of new activities with my students. To get started, here’s a copy of the syllabus I created. I drew inspiration in shaping it from Rachel Bryant-Anderson, the last instructor to teach the class in my department. I also selected readings from the many syllabi kindly shared with me by the users of the Sociologists for Women in Society list-serve.
Another old post rescued from my “drafts” folder that stands the test of time.
My sister and her family used to live in Amish country in Western Pennsylvania. When I visited I was impressed by the prosperous looking farms and the teams of horses out plowing the fields. On one visit, my brother-in-law pointed out a nice home as we drove by it. He told me the original house had recently burned down, tragically killing several of the family’s children in the fire. My brother-in-law drove that road regularly and watched as the Amish community came together to rebuild the house – finishing it within a matter of weeks.
I’ve often thought it would be nice to feel the strong sense of community support that seems to be a part of some religions. But I turned down my own opportunity to join a church when I was a teenager, and am not likely to change my mind now. In my own small, secular ways I try to create other kinds of support systems. They’re not romantic, and often involve making dates to do things with others that I might not do alone. I definitely wouldn’t have spent last Friday afternoon working on the paper for my upcoming qualifying exam, or going to the gym after that, without having a standing date with my writing buddy and another with my gym buddy!
Every now and then I also miss the sense of shared purpose that can come from having a job that actually involves people all working on the same project. Academics are mostly doing their own thing, and PhD students are certainly not allowed to co-author their dissertations.
Here’s some of what I’ve already tried and found helpful:
- Weekly writing dates – in groups or pairs (just to write, not to workshop our writing)
- Grading get-togethers – for moral support!
- Exercise buddies – mostly gym time and walks
- Soup exchanges – everyone makes a soup at home, divvies it up into containers, and gets together to trade soups so we can stock our freezers with a variety of yummy homemade soups! I try to do this each winter.
- Friday lunch dates at the college cafeteria – thanks Bernie!
- Project buddies – I finished my master’s thesis with the help of weekly phone meetings with two other friends working on their own theses, and did the early stages of work for my qualifying exam supported by regular coffee meetings with another fellow student (thanks Brandi!). I both cases we didn’t read each other’s work or talk about the content of our projects, but used the time to set goals, troubleshoot, and get moral support.
- Brainstorming buddies – I have found that most of my academic advisors tend not to be productive people to brainstorm with. They’re much more useful at providing constructive criticism on ideas that are already fairly concrete. But concrete ideas are necessarily preceded by the messier work of making sense of fuzzy thoughts, general interests, and gut feelings, which for me needs to be done in a criticism-free environment, constructive or otherwise. Hence, one fellow student and I have periodically gotten together for brainstorming sessions related to our work. This usually involves big sheets of butcher paper, markers, lots of post-its, and lots of encouragement. : )
- Future projects partner – all of the ideas above can be done with people who have a wide variety of research interests. In addition, I have one friend whose research interests are very closely aligned with my own, and we have a shared google doc with a ever-expanding wish-list of future research and writing projects to do together. Now, it may be a long time before we get to any of them. I’m diving into my own intensive dissertation research, and my friend is wrapping up research for a post-doc at the same time that she begins a new teaching job. Still, having this running list gives me a place to cultivate the pleasure of dreaming up new projects; provides a sense of myself as a career academic who will get to work on a wide variety of projects over time, even though my dissertation currently seems interminable; and helps me trust that the future that will allow more collaborative work than my current status as a Ph.D. candidate.
Oops! Discovered this post written during the winter quarter in my “drafts” folder and am publishing it now…
To review Garfinkel and Goffman, I played the speed-dating video below (suggested by one of my students), and had the students analyze it in small groups with this worksheet.
In a nutshell, we discussed how the video provides a good example of the unstated rules of interaction described by Garfinkel and Goffman (who were lumped together with the French Structuralists by the course instructor, Andy Szasz). Both people clearly come to the interaction with shared expectations for what happens on a speed-date, and successfully managed taking turns in conversation, flirting, and the other sorts of things meant to happen in this particular situational template.
Then, we watched the following Dave Chappelle video, “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong” (the office scene with Vernon Franklin – also suggested by a student):
Here the students were able to see the consequences of breaking social rules of interaction (Dave Chappelle’s character gets fired after a workplace outburst), and also discuss the limitations of the structuralist paradigm. To help them with this latter task, I asked the following kinds of questions as I visited their small groups:
- Does it seem like everyone in the group came to the meeting with shared expectations about what would happen there?
- Does “give me some skin” seem to mean the same thing to Dave Chappelle’s character as it does to his mentor?
- What emotion does Goffman tell us that people usually feel after they break social rules or lose face? Does Dave Chappelle’s character appear to be feeling this emotion? What does he appear to be feeling? Why?
- Is there value in breaking with expected rules of social interaction?