Teaching about social class and stratification:
I always like to re-tool classes based upon previous experiences. When I first taught Introduction to Sociology, I found that many of my students had a hard time relating social class and stratification to their own lives and positions of power and privilege.
How can I further students’ critical and analytic thinking and get them to truly see the “invisible knapsack” of privilege? I wanted to push my students to understand how we don’t choose to be part of a privileged category, but we can choose how we respond to that reality. I let this idea sink in while I tried to think of a method of engagement.
I’m a true believer in the power of reflexivity. When it comes to social analysis, how can you understand others if you don’t know yourself and can’t recognize your own standpoint and social position? The biggest challenge with the biggest reward is being able to step outside of one’s routinized life and critically analyze the self. This is something I stress in all of my classes. Ideological fames are shaped by social position and rooted in group-based conditions and experiences. In order to see this, I believe we first must focus on the things we each are accustomed to and take for granted. To get students to truly challenge themselves then, I needed an exercise that would turn a critical lens upon their experiences in a way that wasn’t indulgent, but illustrative instead.
I kept on thinking about personal examples in my own life that still haunt me—moments where, even at a young age, I behaved in a manner that exposed the unequal perceptions of people based upon social class. Based on these memories I thought my students could gain some much needed perspective by examining one of their own experiences or encounters with class.
The assignment reads:
For this assignment write from personal experience and examine your own class position. Use the readings and class lectures as a guide. The readings on March 6th mainly share personal experiences of social class. You can tackle this from many angles, for example: When was the first time you became aware of class? What transpired in this moment? What cued you into differences in class positions? Why did this experience expose class differences, how did it do so, and what was the result? Provide as much detail as you can and work to unpack the significance of this moment.
You can also use Annette Lareau’s book. What philosophies and approaches to child rearing were practiced in your household? What are some of the benefits and disadvantages of this approach? Can you give a detailed example that illustrates how you were raised? How does this approach influence your social interactions and social position today and how do you see it influencing your experience post-college?
Domhoff spends his time focusing on the many tentacles of the power elite. One aspect of the power elite focuses on their cultural institutions and the values associated with this way of life. What sorts of organizations are you or your family involved in? What is this organization like, and how does it relate to the other organizations and activities you are involved in? How do these organizations transmit forms of capital (social, cultural, economic)? How do we know this, and what are the results/consequences?
I thought an assignment like this could help me bring my own embarrassing moments of class performativity to light and maybe become a teaching tool for others. I can’t be the only person who had moments they are ashamed of, or moments in their life when they first noticed class based differences.