Thursday, July 27, 2006

"Class Culture" vs. "Privilege and Oppression"

Recently I was asked if the students in my senior seminar, "Class Culture," could be surveyed as part of an educational psychology study. I want to be hospitable, but I think the questions asked are so far from the aim of the course that we should not participate. But I am torn. So I put the question to you.

The course is designed as a research seminar for senior anthropology and sociology majors. We read some good books about the culture of the social classes to spur and shape their own study of a class culture question of their choosing. A representative recent syllabus is here. As that syllabus says, " The aim of this particular advanced seminar, on class culture, is to understand how and why society is stratified into classes and status groups. We will explore how different classes have distinctive cultures, and consider the larger question of the social function and meaning of a class system." I do not presume at the outset that social stratification is bad or good. Indeed, considering the vices and virtues of particular classes, and particular stratification systems, is one of the main things we talk about. We discuss the full range of classes, but recently we have spent more time on the knowledge class, in keeping with the research that I have been presenting to you lately.

I have been asked by a local graduate student, not someone I know personally, to study this class. This is how she describes her purpose:
My research is focusing on the effects diversity related courses have on students awareness of privilege and oppression, openness to diversity, and ethnocultural empathy. Further, I am investigating what role the classroom environment plays in changing attitudes and awareness of students related to diversity topics.
So, the Class Culture seminar is a diversity-related course, I suppose, and privilege is, in a way, one of our topics. Still, I sense a disjuncture between her understanding of the aim of a "diversity course" and mine. This is an instance of how the classification scheme classifies the classifier: the very structure of her question, and my syllabus, assumes a different understanding of what "diversity" and, perhaps, education about diversity, means.

So what should be done with this disjuncture?


Anonymous said...

It seems your class does not focus on the conflict theory of social stratification. If that's right, your class members may not have been "led" to change their attitudes about stratification as they became more aware of it. If the functional and conflict theories were both presented as having merit, I do think it would be interesting to learn the results of the study. I don't think "stratification" is a terrific fit with "diversity," but the themes of prejudice, lack of empathy, etc. have come up in my class to partly explain people being stuck in the lower classes.

Gruntled said...

We consider both Marx and Durkheim, but ultimately Weber shapes our understanding of class, status, and command powers.

Anonymous said...

Inherent in the researcher's question is the assumption that all undergraduate students know little about diversity or hold strong ethnocentric viewpoints. Seniors who major in sociology or anthropology have usually had so many "diversity" courses already that this is probably a poor assumption. At the very least, those who attitudes as freshmen were most likely to change have probably already done so.