The Sociology of Birth and Death
Fall Semester 2015
Class: Wednesdays 8:55-11:35am
Professor: Andrea M. Brenner, PhD
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)
Tuesdays 9:00-10:00am and 1:30-2:30pm
Undergraduate TA: Palak Bhatnager
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.
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.
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>