B1 Intermediate US 1743 Folder Collection
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SPEAKER 1: Sociology has this wonderful way of taking things
that seem mundane and revealing them to be beautifully complex.
So take coffee for example.
For a lot of us coffee is a steady part of our routine that goes
completely unexamined on a daily basis.
But if we look at our coffee sociologically we can actually use
it as a window into our society and into ourselves.
So to begin with, coffee's a drug.
And the fact that I can stand here and take this drug and not lose my
credibility reflects the fact that, in our culture, some drugs
are accepted while others are stigmatized.
Yet also within our culture there are subcultural groups in which
this drug is actually outside the norms.
It would be stigmatized.
So for example in Mormon culture to consume coffee is to transgress
the social norm.
So if I look at my coffee hard enough, I can actually see
patterns of deviance and of norms.
But it's not just norms and deviance.
Coffee is connected with a lot more than that.
So for example, coffee is connected to cultural rituals.
For a long time I went without drinking coffee at all in my life,
and I would still find myself frequently asking people around me
if they wanted to go out to coffee.
And the thing was I wasn't just inviting them to go
out and drink coffee.
I was really inviting them to sit down and have a
conversation with me.
Because in our culture, drinking coffee is a ritual of
interpersonal cohesion.
Coffee's also a symbol.
So for example, when we walk around with a coffee cup, we're
sort of telling the people around us a story about who we are, about
our social location.
Whether we drink out of a 7-Eleven hand-me-down plastic mug or
whether we drink out of a very hip Stumptown labeled cup speaks a lot
to where we are situated within this deeply,
deeply unequal society.
It also speaks to our individual politics, into our values.
For example I know people who wouldn't be caught dead with a
Starbucks cup in their hand.
So what's especially interesting about this is that this prop that
we use to tell people a story about who we are, is
simultaneously a prop that we use to tell ourselves a story about
who we are.
So within this deeply consumer oriented society, we're constantly
encouraged by advertisers to achieve our identity.
And express this identity to ourselves and to others by way of
the commodities that we buy, by way of the
commodities that we consume.
So there might be Starbucks people and Stumptown people and that's an
element of their identity.
I'm a Mac versus I'm a PC.
And so it's not just coffee.
I grew up drinking English breakfast tea all the time.
My parents haven't gone 35 years-- probably one day in 35 years,
without drinking tea.
So tea, like coffee, is all tied up in identity.
English cultural rituals, English identity, is all tied up in tea.
What I find to be especially fascinating about this is that
never in the history of England has there been a tea
tree grown in England.
You can't grow tea there.
It's much too cold.
You grow tea in the tropics--
in India, in Africa, in Asia.
So the question arises why is tea so quintessentially English?
And I think the answer is because colonialism is.
So tea is grown in the former colonized world.
England adopted the cultural practices of tea drinking as a
result of colonizing tea drinking peoples.
So there's really no English identity today without India.
And vice versa.
Importantly many of the economic relationships of colonialism are
actually mimicked today within the global economy.
So tea and coffee are still grown in the tropics by the rural poor
and consumed largely in the former colonial powers.
And like before, this massive tea and coffee industry mostly
benefits the large companies and corporations that rule it and not
so much the farmers and the laborers who do the work.
So when I drink my coffee I'm actually participating in the
global economy in a very powerful way.
And this global economy wields incredible influence
all around the world.
So for example, coffee's the second largest import into the
United States after oil.
When I buy and consume this coffee I'm participating in very powerful
institutions within the global economy.
And I'm also participating in thousands of personal
relationships of which I am almost always completely unaware.
So somebody grew my coffee-- somebody with a name, and a life,
and all the personal complexities that you have and that I have.
But I don't know that person.
Even though I don't know them, I think I can make some educated
guesses about them.
For example, they're poor, they live in a rural area, they live in
the global south.
My coffee today's from Guatemala.
Say the guy who grew my coffee was named Miguel.
Or one of the people who grew my coffee and
harvested it is named Miguel.
Miguel works a lot--
too much actually.
He has a family.
He's trying to make ends meet.
His son's getting older and thinking about moving north to try
to find work.
And that worries Miguel.
He knows that there are two very dangerous borders between here and
there, and he also knows that if his son was able to make that,
that would help.
That would help around home.
Miguel also has these in-laws.
They drive him crazy, but he tries hard to do well by them.
So one day Miguel is out working in the fields and it's hot.
It's Guatemala so the chances are good that it's hot.
Miguel bends over to pick up a crate of beans and a little bead
of sweat wells up on his nose and it drops and lands
on one of the beans.
Now before long the heat evaporates the water of his sweat
but the salt lingers.
Those beans go to processing.
They're packaged and they're sent north to a distributor.
And then they're roasted where they're repackaged and sent to a
grocery store that's a couple of blocks from my apartment.
And I go and I buy those beans and I take them home.
And I grind them and I pour water over them, and I rehydrate
Miguel's sweat.
And when I drink it, I'm drinking a little bit of Miguel.
I'm consuming a little bit of his labor-- a little bit
of his body, actually.
And so quietly his salt mingles with my salt until there's really
no distinction between the two.
Now whether or not I see this relationship, it exists and it's
real and it's intimate.
So if I look at my coffee hard enough, I can
see norms and deviants.
I can see identity in politics.
I can see the gun powder of the colonizer, and I can see the
inequality of the global economy.
So coffee is complicated.
And so is everything else.
This is sociology.
Sociology is about seeing and understanding connections.
It is a study of relationships, of relatedness, of inter
connectivity.
C. Wright Mills, the 20th century sociologist, coined a term to
describe this perspective that sociology lends to its
practitioners.
He called it the Sociological Imagination.
The sociological imagination is the ability of an individual to
understand her own lived experience within the larger
social and historical forces that she inhabits.
It's the perspective that places our own lives within the larger
social context in which we live.
So sociology as a study of society is about connecting the dots.
It's about understanding the relationships between you, and me,
and Miguel.
So in a sense, it's like seeing the forest through the trees.
But it's also about recognizing that in this
analogy, you're a tree.
And your treeness is partly the product of the
forest that you inhabit.
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Ben Cushing Sociology & Coffee

1743 Folder Collection
teacherholli published on December 12, 2014
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