This course introduces students to the study of social problems. The course draws on the insights of C. Wright Mills, as laid out in The Sociological Imagination (1959/1976), a view which seeks to grasp “history and biography and the relations between the two within society.” Adopting this perspective encourages students to consider the central question of sociology: the relationship between social structure and individual agency. In the context of social problems, Mills focused on five particular classes of problems facing society: 1) alienation; 2) moral insensibility; 3) threats to democracy; 4) threats to human freedom; and 5) conflict between bureaucratic rationality and human reason. In the course we will consider the current relevance of this typology of problems, particularly from a global perspective. Students will be encouraged to think about how situations are framed as “problems”, as well as the evidence needed to define a situation as “a problem” and assess imagined alternatives to that situation as possible “solutions”.
Field WorkCountry: Myanmar (Burma)
Date: February 21, 2017
Students will spend the day at the University of Yangon, where I have contacts in the departments of psychology and anthropology. During the visit SAS students would meet with faculty and students from the local university. These meetings would be organized around two themes. The first theme would be comparing the higher education experience in the University we are visiting with the experiences of SAS students at their home universities. The conversations would consider academics but also student life and students’ aspirations and motivations for obtaining higher education. The second theme for discussion would be to consider one or more of the following areas in the country visited: 1) Alcohol & drug abuse, 2) Crime & criminal justice, 3) Urbanization, 4) The environment, 5) War & terrorism (topics may be excluded if they are culturally sensitive or less locally irrelevant). On the way back to the ship we will stop at the Secretariat Building in downtown Yangon. Built in the 1880s this impressive colonial structure was the home and administrative seat of British Burma. The building is now abandoned and not open to the public. A local guide will offer a sidewalk lecture on the historical significance of the building.
1. Understand how higher education experiences and aspirations vary between cultures.
2. Understand how different cultures view a range of social issues and the extent to which they see them as problems of individuals or rooted in social structure.
3. Understand how social problems and possible solutions play themselves out in different cultures and how that varies with local social institutions and bases of inequality.
4. To learn about the historical significance of the Secretariat Building in downtown Yangon.