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American Magazine

SOCY 335:
The Sociology of Birth and Death

Fall Semester 2015

Class: Wednesdays 8:55-11:35am 

Professor: Andrea M. Brenner, PhD

Email: brenner@american.edu 

Office Phone: 202 885-2478 

Office: Anderson Hall, University College Office (tell the front desk of Anderson that you are meeting me and they will allow you back) 

Office Hours:
 Mondays 12:00-2:00pm
Tuesdays 9:00-10:00am and 1:30-2:30pm
Thursdays 9:00-11:00am 

Undergraduate TA: Palak Bhatnager

Course Description

This course examines the sociological dimensions of “human entry and exit.” One of the few common denominators among human beings is that each of us was born into this world and each of us will die. These two constants exist in an otherwise rapidly changing world. Both of these events are coined as “natural” but are conditioned by social and cultural forces. We will explore cross-cultural expressions; the changes in medicine; dynamics of class, gender and power; the cultural mores regarding birth and death; and the rituals that surround these fundamental transitions. 

As we examine each theme in the class, you will be able to look at how society supports, controls and constrains our arrival into and departure from the social world. The social, organizational, and cultural dimensions of birth and death will be considered in terms of rites of passage, bureaucracies, social movements, cultural differences, and historical and contemporary contexts. There will be a good deal of time set aside for personal reflection on birth and death.

 

Required Readings

Albom, Mitch, Tuesdays With Morrie, Broadway, 2002.

Cassidy, Tina, Birth: The Surprising History of How We are Born, Grove Press, 2006. 

Dickinson, George, Editor, Annual Editions: Dying, Death and Bereavement 13/14, Fourteenth Edition, McGraw Hill, 2013. 

Doughty, Caitlin, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory, W.W. Norton & Company, 2014. 

Vincent, Peggy, Baby Catcher, Scribner, 2003.

 

My Expectations

This is a course that is at once academic and personal.  We will be dealing with some of the basic STUFF of life.  Consequently, successful discussions in this class will depend on each of us being open-minded, sensitive to others, and respectful of everyone’s beliefs, values and positions. The class lectures and discussions will run parallel to the required readings, videos and handouts.  Coming to class is mandatory (you will sign in) but is not enough to ensure a good grade; coming to class prepared is expected.  Discussions will enhance your understanding of the material and let me know that you are approaching this class in an enthusiastic manner. ADDITIONAL HANDOUTS OR LINKS TO HANDOUTS WILL BE PROVIDED IN SOME OF THE CLASSES; IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO OBTAIN ANY MISSED NOTES FROM A CLASSMATE OR FROM PALAK. Make sure to check emails from me every week. All papers MUST be typed, double-spaced, stapled, and include page numbers; you will be marked down without these elements. As you may have heard, my courses have strict late paper policies. No late papers will be accepted unless an extension is granted by me in advance of the due date. YOUR COURSE GRADE MAY BE SERIOUSLY AFFECTED BY A LATE PAPER. As archaic as it sounds, papers must be submitted to me in hard copy, not electronically. Although not mandatory, my students have benefitted greatly from attending the TA Sessions provided before each paper is due; I would suggest that you mark these in your calendars./p>

Topics and Assignments


Part 1: Death and Dying

Sept. 2

Part A:
Welcome to the Course, Expectations, Personal and Academic Overview: Getting to Know Yourselves and Each Other 

*Begin Tuesdays with Morrie to be finished for September 16 
*$2.00 for Five Wishes Document due in class- cash only- no change!

Part B:
Introduction to Death: The American Way of Dying and Definitions of Death

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

*Complete Journal Entry #1 prompt and debate handouts
*Prepare for next week’s in-class debate and the written piece due in class. Watch HBO’s How to Die in Oregon (available on Netflix) and Frontline’s The Suicide Plan, 11/13/12 (available free online)

Sept. 9

Part A:
Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Debate

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Articles 18, 20, 28 and the debate readings and watched the 2 videos assigned.

*In Class Debate #1 based on readings
*Written part of debate due in class

Part B:
Legal Issues: Planning for the End of Life

Five Wishes Documents Distributed and Discussed

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Article 10, 25 and any other articles assigned

*Assign Deathography and Five Wishes Paper
*Complete Journal Entry #2 prompt

Sept. 16

Part A
Palliative and Hospice Care

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Articles 9, 12, 14, 27, 29 and any other articles assigned

Part B
Guest Speaker: Reverend Drema McAllister-Wilson, Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church

For this class, you should have read: Tuesdays With Morrie and any other articles assigned

*Discuss Tuesdays With Morrie
*Complete Journal Entry #3 prompt: required watch “Morrie Schwartz: Lessons on Living”

Sept. 23

No Class - Observation of Yom Kippur

Sept. 28

Optional TA Session with Palak 5:30-7:00pm

Sept. 30

Part A
Dying- Causes and Processes

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Articles 13 and 15 and the book, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

*Complete Journal Entry #5 prompt
*Deathography and 5 Wishes Paper Due

Part B
Children and Death

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Articles 6, 7, 8 and any other articles assigned

Outliers: Trauma and Other At Risk Populations

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Articles 11, 16, 17, 19 and any other articles assigned

*Bring Journals to Class for Entries #1-6 check
*Assign Birthography Paper


Oct. 7

Field Trip to Joseph Gawler’s Sons Funeral Home 

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Articles 30, 31, 32, 33 and any other articles assigned 

*Complete Journal Entry #4 prompt

Oct. 14

Part A:
Disenfranchised Grief

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Articles 21, 22, 23, 24, 35, 36, 37 and any other articles assigned

Part B:
Bereavement and Mourning

For this class, you should have read: A.E. Articles 34, 38, 39, 40, 41 and any other articles assigned

*Begin Birth: The Surprising History of How We Were Born to be finished for October 28


Part 2: Birth and Birthing


Oct. 21

Part A:
Introduction to Birth: Conception, 1st and 2nd Trimesters

For this class, you should have read: pregnancy articles

* Begin Baby Catcher to be finished for November 4

Part B:
Movie: “Intimate Universe: The Human Body, An Everyday Miracle”

*Complete Journal Entry #7 prompt and read the debate materials for the next class


Oct. 28

Part A:
Pregnancy Simulation: 3rd Trimester

For this class, you should have read: Pregnancy articles assigned

*Discuss Birth: The Surprising History of How We Were Born

Part B:
Planned Cesarean Sections/Public Breast Feeding Debate

For this class, you should have read the debate materials

*In Class Debate #2 based on readings and handouts

*Complete Journal Entry #8 prompt

*Written part of debate due in class


Nov. 2

Optional TA Session with Palak 5:30-7:00pm

Nov. 4

Part A:
Labor and Delivery

For this class, you should have read the labor and delivery articles

Part B:
Reproductive Identity

For this class, you should have read the articles assigned

*Bring Journals to Class for Entries #7-11 check
*Discuss Baby Catcher
*Birthography Paper Due and discussed
*Complete Journal Entry #9 prompt

Nov. 11

Field Trip to Georgetown Hospital Maternity Center

For this class, you should have read the handouts from hospital
*Complete Journal Entry #10 prompt
*Final Paper Assigned: Rites of Passage in Birthing and Dying in the United States

Nov. 18

Panel of Natural Birth Advocates

For this class, you should have the articles assigned

Nov. 25

AU Closed- Thanksgiving Break

Dec. 2

Part A:
Detailed Discussion of Final Papers

*Complete Journal Entry #11 prompt

Part B:
Course Wrap Up and Evaluations Final Grade Sheets Distributed

Dec. 5 or 6

Optional TA Session with Palak 5:30-7:00pm

 

Dec. 7

*Final Paper Due: Rite of Passage 9:00-10:00am

Suggested Readings

DeSpelder, Lynne A. and Albert L. Strickland. The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying. 8th edition. McGraw Hill Publishers, 2009. 

Wolf, Naomi, Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood, Anchor Books, 2003. 

Elder, Glen H., Jr. 1998. The Life Course as Developmental Theory. Child Development 69(1):1-12. 

Elder, Glen H., Jr. 1994. Time, Human Agency and Social Change: Perspectives on the Life Course. Social Psychology Quarterly 57:4-15. 

 Gergen, Kenneth J. 1980. The Emerging Crisis in Life-Span Developmental Theory. Life- Span Development and Behavior 3:31-63. Giele, Janet Z. and Glen H. Elder, Jr., 1998. Life Course Research: Development of a Field. Pp. 5-27 in Methods of Life Course Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches, edited by Janet Z. Giele, and Glen H. Elder, Jr. Thousand Oaks, CA; Sage. Hagestad, Gunhild. 1990. Social Perspectives on the Life Course. Pp. 151-68 in Handbook ofAging and the Social Sciences, 3d edition, edited by Robert H. Binstock and Linda K. George. New York: Academic Press. Kohli, Martin 1986. Social Organization and Subjective Construction of the Life Course. Pp. 271-92 in Human Development and the Life Course: Multi disciplinary Perspectives, edited by A.B Sorenson, F.E. Weinert, and L.R. Sherrod. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Linton, Ralph. 1942. Age and Sex Categories. American Sociological Review 7:589-603. Meyer, John W. 1988. Levels of Analysis: The Life Course as a Cultural Construct. Pp. 49-62 in Social Structure and Human Lives, edited by Matilda W. Riley. Newbury Park: Sage. Riley, Matilda White, Anne Foner, and Joan Waring. 1988. Sociology of Age. Pp. 243-90 in Handbook of Sociology, edited by Neil J. Smelser. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Vogel, F. 1988. Biology, Human Genetics, and the Life Course. Pp.45- 70 in HumanDevelopment and the Life Course: Multi disciplinary Perspectives, edited by A.B Sorenson, F.E. Weinert, and L.R. Sherrod. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.