Discover New York: Identity, Diversity, Social Control and Social Change

St. John’s University – Fall 2012, Wednesday 1:50-4:50                                          Professor Nicole Hala

Class theme: This course introduces students to New York City from a sociological perspective.  Considered the de facto capital of the United States and the world’s premier “global city,” New York is a center of commerce and culture, an international crossroads of people.  Dynamism and diversity shape the character of the city, where the only constant is change. Drawing together people from all over the world, the city creates new patchwork identities. However, all communities also set up boundaries, which exclude “others” from full participation in their economic, political and social life.  New York is a city of contradictions and extremes, marked by vast disparities in income and wealth that overlap considerably with racial and ethnic differences.  Known the world over for its openness, New York, to certain groups at certain times, has appeared more like a fortress.  The tolerance and openness that has given rise to innovations in art, society, and the economy has at times encountered backlashes and “moral panics” seeking to restrict free expression.  This course examines how competing forces—identity and diversity, community and individualism, deviance and social control—have worked to continually transform the city of New York.

Class objectives:

  • To analyze the development and transformation of New York City from a sociological perspective that emphasizes social factors and dynamics.
  • To recognize the relationship between deviance and social control and see how efforts to maintain social order, which entail labeling certain behaviors “deviant” or “criminal” simultaneously function to establish community boundaries and reinforce social norms.
  • To appreciate how throughout New York’s history, social problems such as inequality, prejudice, and stigma, have been met with collective demands for social justice and reform.
  • To “discover New York” in a way that stimulates self-discovery.

Required text:

Alex Vitale. City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics, NYU Press, 2009 ($23 new)

Class grading procedures:

Midterm exam: 20% / Class participation: 20% / Reaction blogs: 20% / 2 Field observation reports (20% each)


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