This NPR website includes several “balloon maps” designed to help visualize global inequalities. These maps are a a great set of visual aids to help understand Wallerstein’s theory of the capitalist world-system.
This New York Times’ series on social class can help students get a more concrete understanding of how class continues to matter in the contemporary United States.
This project led by Princeton sociologist Miguel Centeno uses a variety of data and historical maps to trace the contours of globalization. The related International Networks Archive also includes some fantastic images of global flows in capital, arms, drugs, tourism, and more.
This documentary film examines social class in the United States. Clips can be used to illustrate cultural capital, habitus, and hegemony.
TED Talk: Hans Rosling’s New Insights on Poverty
In this talk, Swiss doctor and statistician Hans Rosling discusses the many dimensions of development and its potential for some of the most impoverished countries. What might Marx or Wallerstein say in response?
This American Life: “The Giant Pool of Money” and “The Invention of Money”
This series of books, papers, lectures, and discussions from American Sociological Association President and Marxist scholar Erik Olin Wright examines his proposals for radical social change. Consider using it to inspire lively class discussion on the relevance of Marx today.
In this interactive game, students start with a poverty-level budget and have to make decisions about how to spend their money over a month. If they run out of money, they lose the game. The activity highlights the impossible decisions that poor people have to make every day.
This New York Times project allows people to examine data on universities to see how socially mobile different institutions make their graduates. It provides a great introduction to talking about why education often fails to foster social mobility because of cultural capital, habitus, etc.
This interactive map allows users to see how much people earn today based on where they grew up. You can search based on race, class, and gender, and you can also examine the relationship between other outcomes (e.g., unwed pregnancy or incarceration rates) based on the zip code where people were raised. The activity can be useful for fostering discussions on cultural capital and habitus.
In this interview, Wallerstein argues that the world system is undergoing a shift that will result in the end of global capitalism in the next few decades. He predicts a shift to either a new form of feudalism (the bad outcome, and the one he seems to see as more likely) or a more equitable, socialistic world system.
This five-episode series highlights how well-meaning white parents who want their kids to attend racially diverse schools use their cultural capital to influence schools in ways that marginalize communities of color and ultimately maintain segregation. The series is rich for illustrating many sociological concepts, but the first episode--The Book of Statuses--is particularly useful for applying the concepts of cultural capital and habitus.
This episode juxtaposes two schools that are three miles apart--one a fairly typical poor public school, the other an elite academy that charges upwards of $40,000 tuition per year. The podcast follows several students from the public school who visit the elite academy, sharing their reactions about the contrast between the two schools, as well as their attempts to make it out of poverty by attending college. The episode is excellent for illustrating the deep-seated, enduring nature of the habitus and the exchangeability of cultural capital.
This episode examines the unspoken rules that govern different classes, including celebrities and those from the middle class who aspire to move into the upper class. The episode highlights the importance of cultural capital and habitus in constraining people’s behavior.
This episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast features a young man who, despite growing up in poverty and spending time in foster care, succeeds academically, in large part because of the support of a wealthy attorney. Gladwell interprets this seemingly inspirational story as a reflection of US educational inequality, highlighting how poor kids need what essentially amounts to charity and can’t afford any mistakes if they’re to experience social mobility.
This episode highlights how scarcity drives people to make decisions oriented toward short-term relief, while over-abundance makes people skeptical and untrusting of others, whom they see as trying to take advantage of them. The podcast provides can facilitate discussions on how people experience social class and how those experiences may drive their policy preferences.
This episode examines jobs in today’s information economy that are alienating for workers--jobs that involve repetitive, mindless activity (e.g., data input), jobs that are unnecessary, and jobs that only exist to make powerful people feel important (e.g., high level administrators and their assistants at many universities). The podcast provides a contemporary application of Marx’s discussion on alienation.
These three resources get at the same message: inequality makes societies more dangerous, less healthy, and more stressful for everyone, even the most affluent. These three resources can be useful in discussing the consequences of class inequality, an unequal world system, as well as in local/national manifestations of that system.
In this interview, political scientist Jamila Michener argues that capitalism depends on some people doing labor that doesn’t pay well enough for them to survive. She argues that economic power tilts heavily toward capitalists in the US and that workers gaining increasing power (partly as a consequence of Covid-19) is a positive development.
In his book and podcast interview, Press examines people who do jobs that are morally hazardous. These are jobs that must be done and about which most people prefer not to know the details because they cause moral injury to the people doing them--jobs like drone pilots, prison guards, meat plant workers, etc. Press’s work illustrates commodity fetishism, highlighting how we’re all complicit in systems that alienate people.
Life and Debt
A powerful documentary film about how global financial institutions and current policies surrounding globalization affect developing, post-colonial countries like Jamaica. To learn more about the film, go to its website.
This striking film follows photographer Edward Burtynsky as he visits the darker side of global production and manufacturing, including giant factories and e-waste dumps in China. The visuals in this film are nothing short of extraordinary. Learn more here.
People Like Us
Pierre Bourdieu’s theorization of cultural capital reminds us that capital is not only about how much wealth we own, but also about the symbolic worth we attach to particular things, people, and places. PBS’s excellent documentary film, People Like Us, illustrates in humorous and poignant fashion the cultural side of social class.
Sociology is a Martial Art
This documentary about French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu provides an intimate and thoughtful look into his life as a scholar and public intellectual. More information can be found here.
Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway. 2010. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.
This documentary film and the book that it’s based on examine how public relations professionals cast doubt on scientific consensus to benefit their corporations’ interests. Merchants of Doubt uses the tobacco industry’s attempts to cast doubt on the consequences of smoking and the energy industry’s similar attempts to cast doubt on climate change as examples. Merchants of Doubt highlights the use of the social superstructure to maintain a material base that hurts everyone while benefiting those at the top.
Feature Films and Clips
HBO’s The Wire, Season 1, Episode 4: “Old Cases”
Habitus is one of Pierre Bourdieu’s most influential – and difficult – concepts. In this scene from The Wire, police officers “Bunk” Moreland and Jimmy McNulty dissect a crime scene in a way that vividly illustrates a murder detective’s “feel for the game.” Note: Explicit Content.
HBO’s The Wire, Season 4, Episode 9: “Know Your Place”
In another example from The Wire, former police commander (and current field researcher) Bunny Colvin rewards three Baltimore middle school students with a fancy dinner. The scene paints a realistic picture of cultural capital at work. Check out this post at the Sociological Cinema for more on how to use this clip in class.
Cook, Ian et al. 2004. “Follow the Thing: Papaya.” Antipode 36(4): 642-664.
An excellent, accessible case study into how commodities can be de-fetishized. The authors trace a papaya from its origins on a Jamaican plantation to the fridge of a North London flat. Highly recommended.
Frank, Thomas and David Mulcahey. 1997. “Consolidated Deviance, Inc.” Pp. 72-78 in Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from The Baffler, edited by Thomas Frank and Matt Weiland. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
In this clever and all-too-true piece of satire, Thomas Frank and David Mulcahey present the business strategy of the fictional company Consolidated Deviance, Inc., the “nation’s leader…in the fabrication, consultancy, licensing and merchandising of deviant subcultural practice.”
Giddens, Anthony. 2002. Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives. New York: Routledge.
A powerful take on globalization from one of the most prolific theorists of our time. We’ve included the chapters “Risk” and “Tradition” for your convenience.
*Note to web designers: Please include link to full text copy here.
Harvey, David. 2010. The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Harvey, one of the most influential social theorists living today, brilliantly extends Marx’s insights on capitalism to the recent financial crisis. Also recommended: A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005, Oxford).
Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky. 2011. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York, NY: Random House.
This text puts forward the propaganda model of mass media, which argues that mass media companies hold many of the same interests and so tend to be conservative, working to maintain the status quo as they filter and frame information. Although dated, the model is still helpful for understanding how elites control information in a democratic system. The text and documentary film--which examines Chomsky’s life and arguments in broader detail--can be useful for discussing how elites maintain superstructural control.
Johnson, Steven. 2006. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books.
Johnson’s book about a deadly cholera outbreak in 1850s London contains vivid prose about the living conditions of England’s working class (the first chapter, “The Night-Soil Men” Is particularly good). A great way to illustrate to students the circumstances Marx was writing about in his critiques of capitalism. The story also illustrates the importance of social capital.
Menard historicizes Marx, explains some of his writing about class, and suggests that many of his arguments about the contradictions inherent to capitalism can be useful for understanding inequality today.
Meyer, John W. 2004. “The Nation as Babbitt: How Countries Conform.” Contexts 3(3): 42-47.
This short, accessible essay from the prolific Stanford sociologist of institutions provides a more Durkheimian take on globalization. Likely to stimulate some good discussion when paired with Wallerstein.
Payne, Keith. 2017. The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die. London, UK: Penguin Books.
Payne highlights the social psychological causes and consequences of inequality, arguing that people are evolutionarily built to experience some hierarchy but that massive inequality has negative effects for everyone. The text can be useful for examining the social psychological causes of alienation and consequences of inequality across a society and globally.
Seabrook, John. 1999, September 20. “Nobrow Culture.” The New Yorker. 104.
A cultural critic’s interesting take on cultural capital and the fate of “taste” in America’s consumerist society. A nice addition to the readings from Bourdieu.
Wacquant, Loic. 2004. Body and Soul: Ethnographic Notebooks of an Apprentice-Boxer. New York: Oxford.
This first-hand account of Wacquant’s foray into amateur boxing examines the construction of the “pugilist habitus” in a Chicago gym.
Wolff, Jonathan. 2002. Why Read Marx Today? New York: Oxford University Press.
A political theorist gives great answers to the question of Marx’s relevance for today’s world.
Zinn, Howard. 1999. Marx in Soho: A Play on History. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
A humorous play imagining what Marx would think if he lived in the Soho neighborhood of today’s New York City. Search for clips on YouTube of the play being performed for “live” footage of Marx in action.