For all my grumbling, I think the seminar went pretty well. I learned a few things:
1. When dealing with the language barrier, it’s easier to read sociological work than to talk sociology. So, I think I can expect more from my students in terms of reading, but I also need to keep the discussion grounded in the reading or to give them the opportunity to prepare by distributing discussion questions in advance.
2. The students seem less interested in hearing about cultural sociology, and more interested in learning about the U.S. and American sociology. The upshot of this is that I can dwell on my own work and follow tangents as far as they made lead, but I also have to find a way to make cultural sociological ideas interesting and relevant.
3. It seems that the sense of culture that my students have is that it refers specifically to folk practices associated with ethnic and national identities – that is, it consists of concrete practices that may be used distinguish one group from others. In cultural sociology, culture is generally conceived of as patterned systems of meaning that influence the social world. I somehow need to get my students to expand their thinking about what culture is and what it does.
4. Today I used the concept “culture of poverty” when discussing how sociological thinking on culture has changed in the last 40 years. When I solicited questions, one of my students asked if Chinese immigrants in America have a better culture and that is why they are more successful than other immigrant groups. I suggested that, in thinking of culture, we needed to also consider our categories of perception. For example, in this case, in the U.S. most people do not distinguish Chinese immigrants from other Asian immigrant groups. I then spoke briefly on some cultural theories around the “model minority” status of Asian immigrants (e.g. voluntary vs. involuntary minorities). I felt that I could do a better job with the topic and suggested that I would be happy to spend some time in a later class talking about Chinese immigrants and race relations in the U.S. The students thought that would be great and then asked if I would lecture on my dissertation as well.