I specialize in the study of culture, focusing on ways people give meaningful form to their activity and, in turn, how their meaning making is shaped by groups, communities, institutions, and social structures. The intersection of inequalities—notably class, race, and gender—is a central component of my work. In my first book, Thinking through Television, I scrutinized television viewing, intent to move beyond the study of responses to specific shows or of particular audiences, and explore instead the meaningful place the medium occupies in people’s everyday lives. Drawing on interviews and participant observation, I found use of television to correspond with social class, but in ways that upset conventional wisdom. Despite viewing selectively, middle- and upper-middle class viewers were not less likely than working class viewers to be affected by television; in contrast, simply leaving the television “on” in the home enabled working class viewers to circumvent its discursive effects in ways their middle- and upper-middle counterparts couldn’t.
More recently, my interests have turned to study of the culture of higher educational institutions, in particular, elite colleges and universities, with an emphasis placed on realities and myths of meritocracy and ways they are undercut by persistent inequalities of various kinds. My second book manuscript situates these concerns amidst contemporary efforts to diversify students, faculty, and staff, examining the gaps that exist between the programs and policies put in place and the day-to-day experience of constituencies they are intended to serve. This project has yielded two main findings thus far. First, demographic diversity has yet to be translated effectively into the kinds of cultural diversity envisioned by administrators and faculty. Second, the discourse of diversity itself often obscures the existence of cultural differences that could serve more effectively as sources for fundamental institutional change.
Various social theorists have been influential to my work over the years, including Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber, and G.H. Mead, with Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Ranciere, and Michel Foucault, especially, inspiring my approach to the study of culture. I am presently at work on a Foucauldian critique of the culture concept in sociology.
I currently teach the following courses.
Self and Society (Sociology 112)
The course introduces students to what C. Wright Mills referred to as the “sociological imagination.” Through accounts both classic and contemporary, students will learn to interrogate in a systematic way both their own lives and the lives of those around them, understanding how they are shaped in significant ways by groups, communities, institutions, and social structures, even as they remain authors of their own actions and determiners of their own fate. In this sense, the dynamics of what sociologists call “power” and “agency” are woven into every aspect of the course. Inequalities--most notably, race, class, and gender—will figure importantly as we explore important topics such as higher education, gendered expectations of parenting, mass incarceration and structural racism, cultural transformations accompanying neoliberal capitalism, and present-day opportunities for social mobility.
Dilemmas of Diversity (Sociology 337)
This course focuses on diversification in the world of higher education, paying particular attention to efforts made by selective liberal arts colleges and universities to open their doors to students disadvantaged by barriers of racial discrimination and excluded by the means of class privilege. Together we will critically interrogate diversity as an idea and an ensemble of practices, exploring both its successes and problems. Among these problems is the gap between a diversity promised and a diversity delivered.
Sociological theories and concepts will be employed to explore this gap, the dilemmas it presents, and the cultural strategies that have emerged in response to them. Situating contemporary efforts of selective colleges and universities to diversify in historical context, we will pay particular attention to broader transformations of racial and class discourse in the United States in the post civil rights era, including federal efforts to address discrimination, Supreme Court decisions regarding race-based admissions policy, changes in corporate personnel policies, the rise of “colorblind” rhetoric, growing economic inequality, and the expansion of neoliberal policies and practices in higher education today. In this context, we will assess the strengths and weakness of diversity initiatives that have been put into place, the patterns of cultural change occurring on campuses, and the role social difference can play in constructing alternatives to inclusive communities as we presently envision them. Students will be encouraged to work collaboratively and will employ a variety of methods to document systematically the current state of diversity on their respective campuses.
Social Class (Sociology 234)
This course explores various ways that class matters in the United States. We will use historical accounts in conjunction with sociological theories to discuss the formation of classes, including discourses and myths of class, in American society. Class will then serve as a lens to examine the origins and characteristics of social stratification and inequality in the U.S. The bulk of the course material will focus on more contemporary issues of class structure and class culture, paying particular attention to relations between and across classes. We will attend to how social class is actually lived out in American society, including its importance in forming identity and lending coherence (or not), to daily life. Among other things, we will explore the role that class plays in the reproduction of power and privilege as well as ways it can be deployed to challenge that power and privilege. Wherever possible, attention will be paid to the intersection of class relations and practices with race, ethnicity, and gender.
Contours of a Colorblind Culture (Sociology 334)
The passage of civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965 was a defining moment in American race relations. By comparison to what preceded it, the post-civil rights era amounted to a great social transformation, leading many to assert ours is now a “colorblind” culture. This course will use the idea of colorblind culture to examine the changing role of race and racism in the contemporary United States. We will examine specific claims that U.S. culture is, or isn’t, colorblind, while exploring the social structural, institutional, and broader cultural factors that shape the present-day experience of race.
2014. Book review of Sassatelli, Fitness Culture: Gyms and the Commercialization of Discipline and Fun. Contemporary Sociology. 43(3): 415-416.
2005. “Anticipating the Future: Reconsidering The Philosophy of the Present” with Danielle Bessett. Sociological Forum 20: 175-177.
2001. “The Road to Nowhere: Reflections on the Current State of the Field.” Reprinted in VisualSIGN. 7(2):4-7.
2000. “The Road to Nowhere: Reflections on the Current State of the Sociology of Culture.” Newsletter of the American Sociological Society Culture Section. 15(2): 1-6.
2000. Thinking through Television. New York: Cambridge University Press.
1997. “Beyond the Text: The Sociality of Image-Based Viewing Practices.” Norman Denzin (ed.) Cultural Studies: A Research Volume, Volume II. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
1997. “Situating Television in Everyday Life: Reformulating a Cultural Studies Approach to the Study of Television Use.” Elizabeth Long (ed.) Engaging Sociology and Cultural Studies: Volume II in the Sociology of Culture Series. Boston: Blackwell.
1994. “Is There Culture after Cultural Studies?” Jon Cruz and Justin Lewis (eds.), Reconceptualizing Audiences. Denver: Westview.
1994. Book review of Smart, Modern Conditions, Postmodern Controversies and Denzin, Images of Postmodern Society . Contemporary Sociology 23(6).
1992. Book review of Ferrarotti, The End of Conversation and Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience. Social Forces 70(4).
1990. “Culture, Television, and Opposition: Rethinking Cultural Studies” with Kenneth H. Tucker, Jr. Critical Studies in Mass Communication 7: 97-116
1986. Book review of Gould, Johnson, and Chapman, The Structure of Television, Contemporary Sociology 15(3).
1984. Book review of Mosko and Wasko, Labor, Mass Communication, and the Working Class. Contemporary Sociology 13(3).