Chris Uggen's Blog: December 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

teaching the 1 in 100

I'm always impressed with teachers who blend established knowledge with shifting social currents, bringing it together in ways that students can understand and appreciate. My pubcrim colleague Michelle Inderbitzin seems to do this every year in her classes at both Oregon State University and Oregon State Penitentiary.

This fall, her Inside-Out Prison Exchange students combined a social fact (that 1 of every 100 American adults is incarcerated) with a new social movement (the We are the 99 Percent cry of the Occupy movement) , photographing prisoners and the people around them holding signs that shared their stories. The result is We are the 1 in 100, a class project and tumblr site that shows an important side of the American incarceration story.

As someone who works and teaches in this area, I rarely come across materials that render the lived everyday reality of prisons in such a clear, human, and intimate way. You can read Michelle's account on pubcrim or visit and add to the archive with your own photos and stories. It takes courage and trust -- and an impressive amount of work, in a 10-week class -- to bring these private moments and messages to light.

Monday, December 12, 2011

the pastiness of the long-distance runner / maroon and gold shoes

Even in the most diverse cities, marathoners see mostly white legs and faces at the starting line. At Citings and Sightings, Suzy and Hollie point to a new Runner's World piece, which asks "Why is Running so White?"

This issue also arose at a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation meeting this year, when James Jackson noted that African American neighborhoods often provide few safe places to run, but ample  outlets for fast food and alcohol. While both running and junk food can relieve stress in the short-term, their long-run health effects will differ dramatically. There are other reasons for race differences in running, of course, and the Jay Jennings article touches on everything from hair to role models.

In running, as in other sports, strong stereotypes persist about race and athletic ability. I once shared a starting line laugh with a fellow middle-aged, middle-of-the-pack runner ... who happened to be from Kenya. He said he was a slooooow runner but people seemed to make the assumption that all Kenyans must be faster than all Americans. Some were so convinced of his abilities they'd invite him to join the elite runners at the start of the race -- which, when you think about it, is actually a pretty horrifying prospect for middle-of-the-pack runners like us.

Speaking of running, I was resplendent in Minnesota colors at this year's marathon. This brought a few inquiries about exactly where one buys maroon shoes with gold swooshes and aglets. I fibbed that I had them specially commissioned, but these are really just "Nike Livestrong Air Pegasus +28," which can still be had for about $69 online. Fair warning, though: the kicks make for controversial office attire. Ann Meier, our Director of Graduate Studies, told me that they were not acceptable -- and most definitely not acceptable when one is bedecked in a maroon sweater and gold shirt.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

i hope she brought enough for the whole class

Food is important in every social setting, but it is especially salient for prisoners deprived of so many other comforts. For prisoners in disciplinary units, a meatloaf-like concoction known as Nutraloaf is often the only meal. Nutraloaf (sometimes called a "special management meal") is intended to meet the basic nutritional requirements in a "meal" that requires no utensils and minimal time to prepare or distribute. Nutriloaf -- and the whole concept of "disciplinary food" -- is so unpopular that prisoners have challenged its constitutionality in a number of jurisdictions.

I mention all this because Jesse Wozniak passed along this class project from Micaela Magsamen, a student in his policing class this semester. Hearing Jesse's mention of Nutraloaf in lecture, Ms. Magsamen decided to prepare and taste-test one recipe for the loaf (which includes both tomato paste and applesauce), photographing and powerpointing the results. While I didn't taste-test this version myself, I'd imagine that such an exercise might change one's view on the whole constitutionality issue.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

what manner of bacchanalia?

Because our department always seems to be celebrating something, Dean Jim Parente often asks, "What manner of Bacchanalia goes on in Sociology this week?" Well, it wasn't exactly bacchanalia (that's Izze's sparkling clementine juice, I'll have you know), but the denizens of the society pages enjoyed a fine party Wednesday at Wing Young Huie's supercool gallery, The Third Place. It was the perfect space and moment to thank our friends, commemorate our final Minnesota issue of Contexts magazine, and to begin turning the (society) page.

We were honored to feature a sampling of Wing's photographs in our final issue, which nicely punctuates a line tracing the sociological imagination of great artists, social entrepreneurs, and cultural observers -- Sebastião Salgado’s photography; the art of Anne Taintor and Harvey Pekar; and, the wit and wisdom of rock critic Chuck Klosterman, humorist Dylan Brody, and magazine entrepreneur Eric Utne. Editing Contexts was always intellectually stimulating, but it was positively thrilling to engage such work with the sociological enterprise.

As for the party, we had a great turnout, tons of fun, and a fitting tribute to a project that brought together so many good people in so many capacities the past few years.* Doug, Letta, and I feel humbled and grateful to have worked with so many brilliant contributors and colleagues at Contexts, the American Sociological Association, and around the world. We only wish we had the budget to fly you to beautiful Minnesota for an enjoyably brisk winter's night. As you can probably guess, though, it won't be too long at all before we'll have another big announcement, celebration, and (yes) some measure of bacchanalia to share with the new TSP crew. Just drop us a line if you'd like an invite.

*If you squint real hard you can see folks like Linda Henneman of ThinkDesign (who did amazing work putting our pages together); national board members and contributors like Monte Bute and Andrew Lindner; undergrad students like Sweet Al Casey; grad board alums such as Wes Longhofer, Hollie Nyseth, Suzy McElrath, Jesse Wozniak, Sarah Shannon, Kyle Green, and Kia Heise; good university friends like Elizabeth Boyle, Rachel Schurman, Michael Goldman, Teresa Swartz, Ann Miller, Alex Rothman, Ann Meier, and Mary Drew; and, plenty of family and friends, including Harper Inea, 2051-2054 Contexts editor.