Born out of a car trip listening to "This American Life" on the radio, the idea to use these radio links arose from a desire to allow you to hear and feel ? not just read ? what people experience with issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. For each chapter, you will find one or more links to the radio shows, along with discussion questions created by Professor Norm Conti of Duquesne University.
"This American Life" is a popular radio show with an unusual format. Each week, the hosts pick a theme and interview people who have some relation to that theme, with the end result of a powerful combination of pathos, humor, and overall learning.
To hear the radio links, you must go to the links below to access the streaming MP3 files. Once you are on the Episode page these files can be played by clicking on the blue icon next to the show title . You should first make sure you have an MP3 player on your machine. You can choose whichever one you like; some of the most common players include iTunes, Windows Media Player and Quicktime. You can do a Google search to find free downloads of whichever you choose. If you are interested in visiting the site or finding more episodes, please go to www.thislife.org.
We hope you enjoy this experience and find it an effective learning tool for putting the issues discussed in Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class into personal perspective.
Chapter 1: Taking a New Look at a Familiar World
Episode 195 — "War Stories"
This episode, produced only a couple of weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, includes four acts and the text of an article from the Chicago Reader that attempt to convey a sense of what it is like to live in and through a war. In the first act the host discusses what the impending war will be like with a Pentagon news correspondent. The second act attempts to tell us something about the lives of soldiers and their loved ones through the analysis of letters written during the Civil War. Act Three "What Peacetime Forgets About Wartime," is an excerpt from the article "Losing The War" by Lee Sandlin. This is a story that explains the psychological differences between peacetime and wartime based on research on WWII. In the fourth act the dualism of skepticism and patriotism that are so central to the "American character" is explored by a man as he travels across the country conducting interviews.
- How does the author's personal experience with war show how people relate their individual lives to a larger sociological picture?
- What concepts from the chapter can you observe in the stories presented here? How does the concept of the sociological imagination play out?
- Compare and contrast how the concepts from the chapter relate to the readings and "Losing the War."
Chapter 2: Seeing and Thinking Sociologically
Episode 27 — "The Cruelty of Children"
This episode, with particular attention to act one "I Like Guys" and three "Human Nature, the View from Kindergarten," examines specific instances of kids being mean to each other. Act One details the experience of an adolescent boy struggling with his gay identity within an intensely homophobic environment. As a result of social forces he is pressured, and conforms, to norms of stigmatizing other boys who display less than masculine selves. Act Three presents the story of a kindergarten teacher who is able to exert a formal social control over the informal relations between her students that leads to a far more civil set of relations between the children.
- How did other people influence each other's behavior in this episode?
- How does this episode relate to "Ordinary People and Cruel Acts?" Talk about Milgram's study in relation to "I Like Guys."
- What role did groups and social status play in David's experience?
- In sociological terms, compare and contrast the situation presented in Act One "I Like Guys" and Act Three "Human Nature, the View from Kindergarten."
Chapter 3: The Social Construction Of Knowledge
Episode 267 — "Propriety"
This episode explores the concept of "decency" in public and political contexts. Act One "The Government Says the Darndest Things," examines the social construction of the concept of decency by the FCC. Recent controversies are juxtaposed with the comments of children in order to illustrate the way in which concepts, as well as norms and laws, are created, agreed upon, and changed over time. The second act examines the way in which a local politician is attacked with profanity for violating the political trends in his district.
- How does this episode illustrate how "reality" has been discovered, made known, reinforced, and changed by members of society?
- In "Government Says the Darndest Things" how does the FCC change linguistic categories, and how do these changes affect the way people think about and define culture?
- How does group mentality (as discussed in the last chapter) affect the ability to define reality? How does this relate to the readings? To the episode?
Chapter 4: Building Order: Culture And History
Episode 65 — "Who's Canadian?"
This episode examines the differences between Americans and the "Canadians among us." The show begins with a discussion of how a variety of cultural products and figures that are so quintessentially American are actually Canadian and what this might mean to our lives and identities as Americans. Later, the program moves on to interrogate the true differences between the two cultures and whether or not Canadians can truly claim a national identity which excludes the American influences upon it. The closing act asks how American migration affects the identities of (former) Canadians. These stories raise very interesting questions about identity, culture, and nationality.
- How does ethnocentrism play a role in the experiences of the Canadians in the episode?
- How do the readings illustrate the concepts presented in the chapter differently than the episode?
- We think of Canadians as lacking specific culture since they are so much like Americans. How does this mindset illustrate cultural relativity? Does this illustrate a sense of order or a sense of change?
- What does this episode tell us, both specifically and more generally, about cultural transmission?
Chapter 5: Building Identity
Episode 233 — "Starting From Scratch"
This episode is all about people starting over. The first act details the experience of a man who walks away from a twenty-five year career as an executive in an advertising agency in order to start his own cable channel that would only broadcast the playful antics of a group of puppies. The story allows for a deep and compelling understanding of the man's identity and why this life change was important to him. Act Two "Making Money the Old Fashioned Way," is of a limousine driver in Las Vegas who "hustles" up to 10,000 dollars every day just to gamble it all away by the end of the night. This act is great for demonstrating the work that people put into building their identities.
- What sort of differences do you notice in socialization as shown in the readings and re-socialization as shown in the episode?
- How does re-socialization change a person's sense of self? What examples of this are found in the episode and the readings?
- What are some differences between socialization and role-taking? How do these concepts relate to the episode and readings?
Chapter 6: Building Image: The Presentation Of Self
Episode 221 — "Fake I.D."
This episode is comprised of stories that describe the deeply personal reasons that people have for using false documents and identification while traveling. The episode centers on the narrative of a newspaper reporter traveling to Poland in order to find the family that saved her mother from the Nazi concentration camps in WWII. In her travels she is surprised to find that in the Krakow, a former hotbed of anti-Semitism, Judaism had recently come very much into fashion. These stories have an underlying theme of the presentation of self, impression management, and stigma.
- Using the concepts from the chapter, explain why you think the people discussed in the TAL episode chose to change their presentation or self in the ways they did.
- Based on the episode and reading, do you think that there is a stigma attached to deliberate impression management? To not managing your impression? Why or why not?
- Find examples in the reading of collective impression management.
- How do the concepts and examples in this chapter, reading, and episode relate back to the ones that have come before (such as status, subculture, and identity)?
Chapter 7: Building Social Relationships
Episode 209 — "Didn't Ask to Be Born"
This is a very powerful episode where two heartbreaking stories of troubled children and their families are told with shocking authenticity. Though the scenarios are tremendously intense and unlike anything that most families will experience, we are able to strongly identify with the people in them and understand how their lives could have taken the turns that they did. The first act tells the story of two sisters who ran away from home and live on their own for an extended period of time following their parents' divorce and relocation to another city. In the second act, we listen to a deeply personal account of a boy with "everything" going for him who takes an unimaginable step to throw it all away.
- How did our individualistic society contribute to the breakdown of Debra's family in Act I of the episode? How did a larger social group influence her family?
- How was Brent's story an example of anomie? Relate his story to the toleration of violence in our culture.
- How do the episode and readings combine the concepts presented in this chapter with the concepts from the previous chapter? How do you think a person's image is related to his or her family?
Chapter 8: Constructing Difference—Social Deviance
Episode 204 — "81 Words"
This entire episode is devoted to the story of how the concept of homosexuality was demedicalized and shifted to the status of lifestyle rather than deviant act. The story is told by the granddaughter of the psychiatrist who was the president elect of the American Psychiatric Association at the time of the movement to have homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for psychiatry and psychology. The narrative includes detailed accounts of people on both sides of the larger social movement that personalize and provide nuance to the larger cause. This story is an excellent example of the politics of deviance.
- How does the episode relate to the readings about the medicalization of deviance?
- This episode is an example of the social construction of reality. How does labeling apply to this?
- What are the social forces at work here, and how do they impact the lives of individuals? How do the individuals affect the social forces?
- How does this episode exhibit the control of large groups over smaller ones?
Chapter 9: Organizations, Social Institutions, And Globalization
Episode 168 — "The Fix Is In"
This episode is solely devoted to the story of an executive at the multinational food company Archer Daniels Midland, who inadvertently ends up as an undercover informant for the FBI. This informant was able to compile hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings of the men behind the corporation engaging in blatantly criminal behavior. This episode provides an interesting case of how organizations function within the larger social structure and how individuals maneuver within organizations.
- How does this corporation exert control and influence on general society?
- Look at the built-in "fix" discussed in the episode and the time squeeze discussed in the readings. How do they function together? How do they affect average citizens?
- How does the work and spend cycle relate to the built-in "fix" found in many corporations today? How might this be part of a larger cycle? Relate the concepts presented in the episode to those found in the chapter and the readings.
Chapter 10: The Architecture Of Stratification
Episode 142 — "Barbara"
This episode is based on the recordings made over the course of six months by an African-American single mother. The show begins by exploring the politics and mythology that surrounds the very notion of being an "African-American single mother." Acts One and Two detail the woman's personal history and daily struggle as she works to earn a living and see to it that her teenage son graduates from high school.
- How does stratification apply to Barbara's situation? How does her story defy the trends of stratification and social class?
- Apply both the structure-functionalist perspective and the conflict perspective to Barbara's situation. Which one seems the most valid? Why?
- How did Barbara avoid the affects of false consciousness?
Chapter 11: The Architecture Of Inequality (Race And Ethnicity)
Episode 105 — "Take a Negro Home"
This episode presents two contemporary stories that exemplify the significance of the racial divide in society. Act One "Interracial Marriage" tells the story of a racially mixed couple who married during the civil rights movement under the assumption that the country was becoming more racially integrated and progressive. Three children and one divorce later, their son Rich seeks to understand the function of race in his parents' divorce and return to their racially separated worlds. Act Two "Economic Integration," tells the story of a young man who grew up in one of the poorest communities in the country and still managed to earn a spot in an Ivy League university, only to realize that the personal strengths that allowed him to escape the ghetto, make him an outcast in the elite circle.
- Is this an example of personal racism or symbolic racism? How?
- Look for examples of institutional racism in the readings. How do they differ from the racism discussed in the episode?
- Based upon what you have read and heard, how does society function to keep the cycle of inequality going? How does inequality benefit society? Use examples from the episode and readings to support your case.
Chapter 12: The Architecture Of Inequality (Sex And Gender)
Episode 99 — "I Enjoy Being a Girl, Sort Of"
The focus of this episode is what it means to be a woman and a girl. The program begins with a discussion of how much more important the role of personal style and body image is for women/girls than men/boys. Act One "Fatty Suit" is the story of a woman who manipulates her physique via costuming in order to comically demonstrate the double standard around weight and beauty that women are forced to bear. Act Two "How to be a Man," examines the practical mechanics of gender performance. Act Three "Strength in Numbers," is the story of lifelong friendships between nine women. Act Four "Taking Sisterhood One Step Further," focuses upon the dynamics that develop within a group of women who are taking part in a polygamous marriage to the same man.
- How do all four parts of the episode exemplify different aspects of gender identity? How does this relate to the readings?
- How could you apply the creation of gender identity as discussed in the chapter to the TAL episode?
- From what you have read and listened to, which type of sexism (personal or institutional) do you believe is more damaging and why?
Chapter 13: The Global Dynamics Of Population
Episode 170 — "Immigration"
This episode deals with an immigration law that is unfair, almost universally opposed, and has only a negative impact upon society but continues to be enforced. The show looks at a specific county in Massachusetts where the consequences of this law are readily apparent.
- The text talks about the gap between rich and poor as a gap between old and young. What other factors could contribute to the gap between rich and poor? Cite evidence from "Immigration" as well as the readings.
- Apply the concepts from the chapter in Immigration in America. What effect could immigration have on the dynamics of population in this country?
- How might the population dynamic change if percentages of birth were higher or lower? How might they change if immigration rates rose from some countries and fell from others? Show how these factors would widen or lessen the gap between rich and poor. Give examples of other types of population changes that could change the overall sociological dynamic.
Chapter 14: Architects Of Change: Reconstructing Society
Episode 250 — "The Annoying Gap Between Theory… and Practice"
This episode explores the dilemmas faced by individuals pursuing some type of social change. Act One "Rock, Paper, Computer," explains the difficulty in implementing computerized voting. Act Two "Detroit Is in the House," is drawn from three days spent with a state representative who ran for office with the hopes of being able to improve things for his local neighborhood once he was elected. This story brings up the issue of how attempting to change things from within impacts the self within the individual.
- How might a gap between theory and practice exist on a sociological scale as opposed to a personal one?
- How does social change begin? What causes it to continue? Do societal changes exhibit a greater gap between theory and practice with large changes, or small ones?
- Change is the preeminent feature of modern society, according to the text. What would happen to a society that did not change? Show how an idea and its execution may differ, and discuss how this may affect the willingness of a society's members to accept change.