My teaching at Kent
State University includes Minorities in America, Minorities in Crime & Justice, Issues in Law & Society, and Criminology.
Graduate courses have included Crime, Inequality & Deviant Subcultures; Theories of Crime & Delinquency; and Law,
Justice & Society. I bring to these courses my interests and experiences teaching and researching in a variety of
substantive areas, including racial and ethnic groups, social deviance, deviant subcultures, and sociological theory. Prior
to teaching at Kent State University, I taught in Illinois at Benedictine University and Roosevelt University, and in Massachusetts
at Boston University and Curry College.
Teaching across such broad fields as sociology and criminology and justice
studies provides the perfect opportunity for me to pursue my several substantive interests without being inhibited by disciplinary
restrictions. My undergraduate education was in political science, focusing on political and social theory, although I settled
on political science only after flirting with philosophy and psychology. My graduate education was in sociology, but included
much exposure to the philosophy of social science. After starting my graduate training in the traditions of sociological theory
and comparative-historical sociology, my graduate education ended with an emphasis on the sociology of deviance, crime and
law, and increasing interest in discrimination and minority identities. My teaching benefits at times from each of these areas
of study, and allows me to appreciate a wide variety of student interests and perspectives.
My teaching style
is very much influenced by the liberal arts tradition of higher-education scholarship, emphasizing engagement with key concepts
and debates in the relevant academic fields, both historical and contemporary, as well as bringing these academic insights
into a dialogue with students’ beliefs and concerns about social issues and current events. My courses emphasize critical
thinking and challenge students to reconsider conventional wisdom and identify new interests.
Brief course descriptions
for my current and recent teaching are included below:
LAW & SOCIETY
This course introduces students to the study of laws and legal systems in their social contexts,
including attention to socio-historical trends, social issues, social movements, social conflict, politics and administration,
and public opinion and morality. Topics to be studied include sociological perspectives on the history, nature and significance
of legal systems; the social organization of legal systems; social and political influences on legislation and adjudication;
law as an institution for the social control of minority groups, labor, and the unemployed; law and social change; the legal
profession; media coverage of legal cases; and a variety of current events understood from a ‘law and society’
perspective. Students are encouraged to monitor media coverage of current events for ‘law and society’ issues,
and to relate course material to current events and vice versa.
MINORITIES IN AMERICA
course introduces students to the issues of minority/majority relations in U.S. society and history, with coverage of a variety
of specific minority groups, across racial, ethnic, and religious categories, and including selected white ethnic groups.
The inclusion of white ethnic groups and their changing historical treatment illustrates how definitions of whiteness and
the American majority are socially constructed and subject to social change, although the advantages accrued by some ethnic
groups elevated to whiteness over the last one hundred years (Jews, and many Catholics, having immigrated from regions including
Eastern and Southern Europe) have had the unfortunate effect of reducing the number of minority groups who have a direct stake
in improving majority-minority relations. While learning about the unique aspects of different specific minority groups and
their experiences in the United States, students benefit from interesting illustrations of many broader sociological themes,
including social inequality/stratification, social integration and social conflict, social change, social identity, and social
MINORITIES IN CRIME & JUSTICE
This course focuses on the roles of social, racial and/or ethnic minorities in their relations to the institutions of the
American justice system(s), including the roles of criminal offender, crime victim, victim of the justice system, and employee
in the justice system. African Americans and Hispanic Americans will be the primary minority groups discussed, among many
others. Differential patterns of offending by race/ethnicity and differential patterns of sentencing by race/ ethnicity will
be central substantive topics, as will issues of policing in the multicultural context of American history and American society,
including issues of prejudice and racism and discrimination in the justice system. Special topics to be addressed concern
the relationship between discretionary law enforcement and discrimination, and critical discussions of racial profiling in
the context of the ‘War on Drugs’ and the ‘War on Terror.’
This course examines principal themes and theories in the field of criminology, traditionally defined
by its interest in using the theories and methods of the social sciences to discover the causes of crime, often with a view
towards informing criminal justice policies or more generally responding to social problems. Topics to be covered include
the history and nature of criminology as an applied social science and critical discourse on crime; crime in relation to the
legislation and enforcement of the criminal law; methodological issues in the understanding of crime; major types of crime
and their significance in criminological thought; and especially various theories concerning the nature and causes of crime,
from the conventional to the reformist and the revolutionary.
My research has involved a constellation of issues including discrimination, law, crime and deviance, social
identity, and language-use. Discrimination as a legal problem amounts to causing someone harm due to membership in a social
group that belongs to a legally protected category, such as a racial category. Because individuals belong to many groups and
have many personal characteristics as well, it can be very difficult to reach a compelling, authoritative decision that someone
was harmed because of membership in a social group from a protected category. For this reason, language-use becomes a central
topic as well as a central resource for studies of discrimination. It is through language-use that individuals, groups, corporations
and governments make accusations of discrimination, and defend themselves from such accusations, and it is through language-use
that such disputes are judged. As an analytic matter for empirical investigation, the key question is often whether the alleged
discriminator was acting on the basis of the claimed victim’s minority status, and the best way to address this question
is to study relevant speech or textual records. This is not to say that either the accuser or the accused should have their
version taken at face value, but their versions are the central data available to social scientists studying discrimination,
just as these versions are the material that affirmative action offices and courts must evaluate in order to decide whether
discrimination has occurred. This is also not to say that action is any less important than language-use, but properly understood,
language-use is a centrally important but neglected variety of action, and language-use is inseparable from the meaning and
moral significance of actions. Many social scientists believe that statistical inquiries provide a more rigorous method for
studying discrimination than “qualitative” methods do, but inferential statistics are demonstrably dependent upon
a great variety of non-mathematical methods of reasoning and argumentation which only qualitative studies of natural language
use can reveal and explicate.
My empirical research over recent years has included an analysis of the U.S. Supreme
Court judgment which upheld the Japanese Exclusion Order during the Second World War. This analysis suggests that Japanese
Americans could be correctly described as either a racial minority, or a national ancestry minority, and the upholding of
the Exclusion order was premised on the majority placing emphasis on questions of nationality and national ancestry over racial
minority status, the latter of which receives a greater amount of protection in American civil rights law. Similar issues
are raised by contemporary U.S. policies basing security screening on nationality rather than race, although nationality often
serves as a very reliable indicator of race and religion in the ‘War on Terror.’ Another case covered in my research
is the case of McCleskey v. Kemp, a famous and precedential U.S. Supreme Court case involving demonstrated racial inequalities
in capital sentencing. My analysis of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court describes complex and methodic processes
of inferential reasoning and argumentation, but suggests that such reasoning and argumentation can be understood as displays
of common linguistic and cultural competences, even when the arguments concern the relevance and the meaning of complex statistical
data. Another case I have analyzed is the famous case of Mary Daly, the noted feminist professor who excluded men from women’s
studies classes at Boston College. My analysis of an excerpt from a media interview with Daly and a male public relations
representative of Boston College reveals that discrimination disputes involve many social identities other than the one under
dispute, and that disputes can turn on these other identities, as this dispute ends with Daly’s emphasis on her status
as faculty with substantive expertise not shared by her accuser. Another case which I have analyzed deals with the Congressional
testimony of a hate crimes expert, exemplifying an important strategy for extending civil rights protections to groups previously
not covered by law – specifically a strategy of analogical reasoning, comparing unprotected groups to already protected
groups. Ongoing research follows up on my study of the the treatment of Japanese Americans in WWII by looking at categories
used for describing the threat of domestic terrorism in the war on terror, with special reference to the categories 'sleeper
cells,' 'fifth columns,' and 'lone wolves.' Such categories rhetorically facilitate stereotyping in the context of media and
public opinion, and ethnic profiling in the context of criminal justice and national security.
Several of my interests go beyond empirical
research, into areas of sociological theory, the philosophy of the social sciences, debates about qualitative social research
methods, and the role of concepts and language in social research. I am particularly interested in combining empirical studies
of talk-in-interaction with Wittgensteinian conceptual analysis, thereby grounding philosophical linguistics and infusing
empirical research with conceptual rigor. In many of these concerns, I am pursuing and expressing insights grounded in my
studies with Jeff Coulter at Boston University.
My theoretical, programmatic and philosophical interests are suggested
in part by publications such as these mentioned below.
For example, in a paper published in the Journal for the
Philosophy of the Social Sciences, "Rethinking Practices and Structures," I summarize and critique the attempts
of Pierre Bourdieu and Anthony Giddens to overcome dualistic thinking with respect to social structures and social practices,
and I ‘rethink’ the micro-macro debate by means of exploring a number of insights and findings from ethnomethodology,
conversation analysis, and membership categorization analysis. I draw particularly on Jeff Coulter’s papers on social
structure and macro-social phenomena. Two common faults found in conventional theory are tendencies to reify social structure
and tendencies to dismiss the knowledge and skills of the ‘subjects’ of the social sciences. Ethnomethodology
and conversation analysis are able to respecify many of the relevant theoretical issues into topics that can be settled by
empirical research, and without committing reification or drawing invidious contrasts between academic studies and commonsense
knowledge of social structure.
In another recent paper, "Evaluative Categories of Action and Identity in
Non-Evaluative Human Studies Research: Examples from Ethnomethodology," I take up the issue of whether the social sciences
can describe their phenomena in a disinterested analytic manner, without politicizing scholarship. I discuss ethnomethodogical
scholarship on problematic identities and problematic actions to argue that even with “deviant” phenomena and
controversial categories or labels, disinterested description is not only possible, but very rewarding analytically and methodologically.
I use Max Atkinson’s study of suicide and Jeff Coulter’s studies of mental illness as examples of rigorous and
rewarding, and also disinterested studies of controversial topics in the social sciences. Instead of categorizing people as
mentally ill, as suicides, as retarded, as delinquents or criminals, as terrorists, as socio-paths, etc., it is possible to
study how such identities are made and unmade in the course of social interaction and talk. In this manner, the controversial
and problematic nature of many identities and actions is no longer an obstacle to research, but actually assists in revealing
the social practices and practical reasoning involved in moral evaluations and how they are made to ‘stick,’ or
not, with reference to observable social interaction and speech, and with respect to individual people and cases.
In two papers published in the journal Human Studies, I take up Melvin Pollner’s ethnomethodological critique of labeling
theory, and explore its continuing relevance for the social sciences. Pollner faults labeling theory for not consistently
and conclusively breaking with the commonsense notion that deviance is an inherent property of certain individuals and actions.
This inconsistency and hesitation result in an analytic failure to completely respecify deviance as a practical achievement,
which can be studied by attending to social methods of practical, moral reasoning and description. At stake is whether the
study of deviance will rely upon the same concepts and methods used in society to create deviance and deviants, or whether
the study of deviance will move beyond commonsense concepts and concerns, and develop specifically analytic insights, including
analytic insights into the role of commonsense concepts and commonsense explanations in the creation of deviance in the first
Another paper, presented at a professional conference, picks up this distinction between commonsense and
analytic conceptions of deviance, and addresses how the analytic conceptualization of deviance as a social achievement can
be taught to students who see deviance as an inherent property of certain actions and identities. I argue that commonsense
reasoning itself contains resources for reconceptualizing deviance, including notions of subjectivity in judgment, and notions
of moral relativism. If the right resources within commonsense can be brought into play, the analytic reconceptualization
of deviance can be accomplished by building upon commonsense resources, rather than by fighting commonsense theories of deviance.
I suggest as well that ethnomethodological studies are invaluable in these matters, because they are able to study the methods
of practical reasoning and practical action involved in creating the sense that an action or identity is inherently deviant.
Ethnomethodological studies thereby recognize that deviance can be experienced as an inherent or essential property of actions
or individuals, without letting this element of commonsense reasoning constrain the analytic study of deviance, or prevent
the study of deviance from including the role of commonsense reasoning in the creation of deviance and deviants.
In one of my earliest papers, published in Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, I explored the topic of motives and
the role of motives in the social sciences. I argue that motives are explanatory devices which people use to speak of deviant
or potentially deviant actions and identities, and that social scientists therefore should not be in the business of using
motives to explain social action. To do so participates in the social process of stigmatizing certain particular individuals
and actions, and is therefore a type of moral evaluation distinct from empirical research. To the extent that social scientific
explanations are granted any authority, they are supposed to be authoritative because they reflect specialized methods of
research and specialized knowledge. To use the status of scientific authority to certify or credential moral evaluations which
don’t reflect distinctive scientific methods or knowledge may serve political interests in the short run, but in the
long run it works to discredit social science both politically and academically. Other explanatory concepts, including 'causes'
and 'reasons,' also reflect implicit moral judgments or have implicit moral consequences, and are therefore problematic for
social scientific explanation. So I argue for the study of how people use explanatory concepts such as motives, reasons and
causes in their practical interactions and speech, rather than for social scientists themselves to rely upon motives and other
morally-implicative commonsense concepts in their analysis. When social scientists employ motives in their accounts of social
action, they thereby unwittingly engage in practical reasoning and practical action, and in this respect fail to explicate
the logic of the cultural resources they are dependant upon. They treat motives as a resource for study, when motives can
be respecified as a topic of study, thereby achieving the analytic ambition to offer a type of social understanding distinctive
from mundane, practical reason.
My research on discrimination disputes should be understood as applications and
investigations of these theoretical interests, especially the interests in the study of motives and the study of macro-structural
phenomena such as institutional impacts upon minority groups, and group relations such as race relations and gender relations.
My research demonstrates how motives are used in moral discourse, and how discrimination disputes involve attempts to treat
individual cases or actions as examples of macro-social institutional action or group relations.
PUBLICATIONS AVAILABLE ON-LINE
Two examples of my work are available on-line at the noteworthy
journal Qualitative Sociology Review. One is a programmatic article mentioned above on the study of evaluative categories
of action and identity with reference to the categories of suicide, schizophrenia, and discrimination. Another paper, mentioned
above also, involves qualitative research on expert testimony to expand national hate crime legislation to include women.
Please follow the links below to the tables of contents of
the relevant issues of Qualitative Sociology Review, from which the articles can be downloaded in PDF form.