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February 21, 2013 / brockportsociology

Professors Guptill and Copelton Publish a New Textbook in Food Studies

denisecopelton2009GuptillAmy2010WEBProfessors Amy Guptill and Denise Copelton recently collaborated in producing a new textbook within the growing, interdisciplinary field of Food Studies–Food & Society: Principles and Paradoxes (Polity, 2013).  We asked them to answer a few questions about what motivated the project and how they’re planning on using it in Sociology courses at Brockport.  Read the discussion for their thoughts on this exciting new text for the field.

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1. What initially inspired you to collaborate on a textbook in food studies?  Why did you think this book needed to be written?

Amy: In teaching the course, it’s been a struggle to find academic readings that are accessible and interesting to students who are studying the sociology of food for the first time. Most of them are written for an audience that is already familiar with major concepts and findings. Instead, I’ve often relied on popular books like Michael Pollan’s bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which are interesting but do not provide any conceptual foundation. When Denise invited me to collaborate with her and Betsy Lucal on a textbook for Polity, I was excited to create something that undergrads could dig into. The marketing research we did for the book proposal confirmed our impression that existing student-focused texts were out of date or too narrowly focused on just one aspect of the field, like culture. We wanted to produce a more comprehensive introduction that integrates ideas about culture and structure with engaging case-studies.

Denise: Several years ago Betsy Lucal and I compiled a syllabi set on the Sociology of Food through the American Sociological Association’s Teaching Resources Center. While working on that, we realized that there was a real need for a comprehensive textbook on sociology of food as there was no current text then available. A few months later, Polity approached us about doing such a book and it took off from there.

2. Give us an example of each of your favorite sections in the book?  Which bits were you most passionate about including and why?

Denise: I am really proud of the book as a whole, so it is difficult to identify select sections as my favorites. However, I think students will respond especially well to the sections on restaurant work. Both students and instructors will find many ways to connect issues discussed in the chapter on restaurants and restaurant workers to contemporary media portrayals such asGordon_Ramsays_Kitchen_Nightmares Kitchen Nightmares and Bar Rescue. That strikes me as one of the text’s real strengths. We intentionally wrote the book with undergraduates in mind and the conversational tone we used in writing helps to blend solid sociological insight, for example about how race, gender and class privilege are built into the dining out experience as well as the hierarchy of the restaurant, with readable examples drawn from popular culture.

Amy: I was most passionate about integrating diversity and social inequality within every section of the book. A lot of food writing (indeed, a lot of sociology) treats middle-class white Americans as the norm and everyone else as some exotic “other.” We wanted to provide a more accurate depiction of the diversity of food practices. For example, our account of the industrialization of agriculture includes a discussion about how the image of the modern farmer as white and male contributed to the marginalization of women farmers and farmers of color. Similarly, our section about the so-called obesity epidemic discusses how proponents of the fat acceptance movement dispute the assumptions about body size that seem to underlie the mainstream public health perspective on the issue. It’s an area of difference and inequality that a lot of people haven’t thought about before.

3. Food studies seems to have popularly exploded as an area of interest.  Do you agree with this? And if so, what do you think accounts for this transformation and is it something you address in the book?

Amy: Interest in food has grown hugely in both higher education and in popular culture at large. More and more universities are establishing food studies programs, which shows that it is not just a fad. Food studies will have an enduring role in learning and scholarship. I think the growth of food studies reflects how food is essential to so many other concerns. Our own trio illustrates this. I came to food studies through work on agriculture and rural development, Denise through the sociology of health and medicine, and Betsy through her interests in gender and media. In the food studies conferences I attend, I meet geographers, nutritionists, development scholars, agronomists, historians, economists, ecologists, anthropologists, social movement scholars, city planners, and philosophers in addition to social justice advocates. Everyone cares about good food, however they define it, and people in many fields are increasingly discovering how we can address fundamental issues in society and environment by changing how we produce, process, transport, and consume food.

Denise: As Amy notes, food studies is truly a burgeoning interdisciplinary field.  It is perhaps the interdisciplinary nature of food studies that accounts for its growing popularity among academics. But food is also a central concern to non-academics, and the growing interest in healthier, more socially responsible, and environmentally sustainable food systems among consumers is evidence of this. Food movements are springing up everywhere, whether they focus on organics, slow food, GMOs (genetically-modified organisms), vegetarianism or changing some other significant facet of food systems. We address many of these issues in the final chapter of the text.

4. What else do you want people to know about your book? (here we’re thinking about how it’s organized, how it can be used in classrooms, or anything else that you want to write about).

Denise: As the subtitle suggests, we’ve organized each chapter of the book around some central paradox. For instance, chapter 6 focuses on the high cost of cheap food through an examination of the industrialization of food systems, while chapter 4 examines the paradox of how nutritious or healthy food is often hard to stomach.special-k-diet-logo Each chapter’s opening case study introduces the paradox animating that chapter. For example, the chapter on food and health opens with a discussion of the marketing of fad diets like Kellogg’s Special K Diet. These opening case studies draw readers in and through class discussions both instructors and students can apply issues developed more fully in the chapter to the opening case.

Amy: We think of the book as a living document. We’ve started a blog at foodandsocietyblog.wordpress.com and a Facebook page. In those venues we hope to coalesce thoughts and conversations about emerging issues in food and society. If we’re fortunate enough to do a future edition of the book, we can use that compilation to inform the updated text. We wrote the book with the classroom in mind; these other venues extend the invitation to the feast to our fellow instructors, graduates of these courses, and anyone else who wants to make sense of the complexities and contradictions in food.

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November 13, 2012 / brockportsociology

Brockport Sociology Alumna Spotlight–Rebekah Orr

We are starting a new series intending to highlight some of the places our alumni choose to go after graduating, and we plan to share the experiences of students who have entered a variety of careers. Our first spotlight focuses on a student who pursued graduate school after graduating from Brockport.

Some of our students apply to graduate programs in a variety of different fields, but Rebekah Orr chose to go on to study sociology in a graduate program.  Rebekah’s currently teaching an online course with us and will also be offering a course in the Women and Gender Studies program this spring (2013)–“Feminist Theory.”  We asked her to reflect on her time here at Brockport, what valuable lessons she learned, how she decided to move on to graduate school, to share some tips on applying to graduate school, and to tell us a bit about her dissertation research.

Who is Rebekah Orr?

I graduated from Brockport with a dual degree in Sociology and Women and Gender Studies in May of 2008.  I was encouraged pretty early on in my career at Brockport to consider graduate school.  Thankfully, faculty in both Sociology and Women and Gender Studies saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself quite yet. During my junior year I was given the opportunity to participate in some original research with Professor Joan Spade. We presented our findings at the annual Eastern Sociological Society meeting.  It was a really exciting experience for me, and caused me to realize that I LOVED doing research and I loved being a part of an intellectual/academic community.  The experience really solidified my desire to go to graduate school.

I am currently in my fifth year as a PhD student at Syracuse University, and have recently defended my dissertation proposal and achieved ABD status.  I am currently beginning fieldwork and data collection for my dissertation project on LGBTQ heritage organizations and their role in building and supporting queer communities.  I miss a lot about the College, but I think what I miss most is the small, intimate atmosphere of the campus.  There really is a sense of community at Brockport–especially in the Sociology department, and that’s something I came to really appreciate during my time there.

What was your favorite course in the Sociology department at Brockport and why?

There were so many courses that I loved in the Sociology department at Brockport, but I think my favorite course was Dr. Kaldor’s “Social Theory” course.  It was by far the most challenging class that I took at Brockport, but I worked hard and I excelled in it and it became a moment of, wow, I can do this!  I get this!  I really appreciated Dr. Kaldor’s teaching style.  He had a way of connecting what seemed like really ancient and outdated theory with our everyday lives.  When a professor has a passion for a subject–any subject–they can bring that subject to life for their students.  This is something I strive for as I have begun to teach my own classes.

What made you decide to double-major in Sociology and Women and Gender Studies?  Did you feel as though the two majors worked well together?  Why?

Well, I’m a fickle lady and I always have two loves at once…  But really, in all honesty, I feel as though Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies are a perfect match.  They complement and build off of each other in a way that worked really well for me.  I came to Brockport with the intention of earning a Social Work degree, but I was randomly placed in Professor Weininger’s “Introduction to Sociology” course my first semester at Brockport.  I knew immediately that I had found my “thing.”  I was drawn to the study of inequality and to the activist underpinnings of sociological inquiry.  But the study of gender inequality was what most resonated with me  and that lead me to an “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies” course.  Again, it was love at first sight!

Tell us a bit about your application process to graduate school.  Do you have any advice for students considering applying to Masters or Doctoral programs?

Applying to graduate school was one of the most intense times in my life.  It was simultaneously terrifying and exciting.  I was really lucky–and all of you current Brockport Sociology major and minors are too–to have a really excellent group of faculty members who were incredibly supportive throughout the entire application process.  I don’t think there was a single faculty member in the department at that time who didn’t sit down and patiently answer my questions, read over drafts of my application materials, and reassure me that I was indeed smart enough and prepared for graduate school.  So on to the advice:

  • Utilize the faculty–Each and every faculty member went through this process and has a wealth of valuable advice and insight into what you’re going through now.
  • Be organized–If you’re applying to more than a few graduate programs the application materials and different deadlines can quickly become overwhelming.  Find an organization system that works for you, and stick with it.  Time spent organizing yourself will absolutely save you time later on, and it will likely save you a nervous breakdown.
  • Believe in yourself–Have faith in yourself and in your training from the Sociology department at Brockport.  You are good enough, you are smart enough, and you’ve been prepared to succeed in graduate school.

What are you studying and why is it important?

My dissertation research looks at a variety of organizations working to document and preserve the multiple histories of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender folks, and the role of those organizations in creating and supporting queer communities.  This research is important for a variety of reasons, one of the most important being that the positive aspects of queer communities have historically been understudied in our field.  Recognizing the important work of LGBTQ organizations is essential to fair and accurate representations of LGBTQ individuals and communities.  Finally, exploring the role of history and memory in contemporary subcultures and communities is a key contribution of this research project.

Returning to Brockport, what are you most excited about?  How do you feel about teaching in a department from which you were graduated?  What are you teaching and what can students expect?

Returning to Brockport as in instructor and not a student has been kind of a “trippy” experience.  Arriving on campus to pick up my faculty parking permit and my faculty ID four years after leaving Brockport as a new graduate felt like something out of “The Twilight Zone.”  I am most excited to have the opportunity to work with and impact current Brockport students the way that the Brockport Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies faculty impacted me as an undergraduate.  I’m also really excited about garbage plates!

I am currently teaching an online section of “SOC395–Sociology of the Life Course,” and I will be teaching a section of “Feminist Theory” on campus this Spring.  Students enrolling in my classes can expect to be challenged, to laugh, and to approach a variety of topics in creative ways.  I always strive to create a collaborative learning environment where students teach as much as they learn.

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If you’re one of our alumni, and you’re interested in being featured, we’d love to hear from you and for you to share some of what you’ve learned since graduation with our current students.  Click here for more information on the blog, and email either Professor Melody Boyd (mboyd@brockport.edu) or Professor Tristan Bridges (tbridges@brockport.edu) to get things started.  We’d love to hear from you!

October 29, 2012 / brockportsociology

“Clouding Research” – A Word Cloud with Elliot Weininger

This is the first in a new series of posts from the Sociology Department at The College at Brockport–“Clouding Research.”  The goal is to allow faculty a brief space to explain some of the findings of their recent writing and research.  We first make a word cloud out of a recent paper or article and use that as a tool to ask them some interesting questions about their work.  This post considers Elliot Weininger‘s recent article with Annette Lareau, “Paradoxical Pathways: An Ethnographic Extension of Kohn’s Findings on Class and Childrearing.”

Professor Weininger‘s research focuses on issues of education, family, and issues of contemporary race, class, and gender inequality.  This particular project focuses on class differences in parenting practices.  This is a topic that’s received some important research, and Professor Weininger’s work builds on this work by considering the different types of data available by studying the issue in more than one way.

1. Kohn’s name appears prominently in the word cloud.  What are Kohn’s findings and how does your work relate?

Some 50 years ago, Melvin Kohn famously argued that people’s experiences in the arena of work have powerful effects on their psychological orientations.  In particular, he presented evidence supporting his claim that the experience of either self-direction (i.e. independence) or conformity on the job directly affect people’s childrearing values: individuals who have a significant amount of decision-making authority and discretion in their work, for example, will be much more likely to want their children to develop a capacity for independent decision-making; conversely, those who are closely supervised and expected to follow orders in their jobs will be much more likely to want their children develop a sense of obedience and deference towards legitimate adult authority.  Simply put, the type of work environment you’re subject to affects the kind of kids you want have.

(See here if you’re interested in reading some of Kohn’s early work on the topic.)

2. A couple of the words seem to be methodological (e.g., interviews, observation, participation).  How did these methods ask new questions of this popular topic?

Most of the research in this area has entailed the statistical analysis of survey data.  While this type of analysis has numerous strengths, it can be a bit of a blunt instrument.  So we instead used ethnographic data (collected through observations and interviews).  This enabled us to look at how parents attempt to actually implement their childrearing values or commitments–something that survey data is generally not so good for.

3. “Activities” really stands out here.  What role do activities play in your findings?

Time-use studies show that children in middle-class families spend substantially more of their free time participating in organized extracurricular activities than their counterparts from working-class or poor families.  Our data suggests that this involvement in organized activities is, in part, an aspect of their parents’ attempts to implement their commitment to self-direction–that is, the parents see it as a way to build their kids’ sense of independence and autonomy. 

4. The word “paradox” shows up in the title of the paper and in the word cloud.  What is the paradox you address in this paper?

Perhaps ironically, middle-class parents often end up trying to implement their commitment to fostering their kids’ independence by the use of directives and other forms of adult control (the opposite, in other words, of what they want the children to achieve).  Conversely, working-class and poor parents, while generally expecting their kids to defer to adult authority, are perfectly happy to grant them wide swathes of leisure time in which they free to pursue self-initiated activities, make their own decisions, and exercise their own initiative.

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Interested in learning more?

Check out Professor Weininger’s article here and let us know what you think in the comments.