Letter From the Editress

We are pleased to introduce the 2009-2010 edition of Sociology
News. Beverly Pratt and I will be the interim editresses (an actual
word in the dictionary) until the election results are in. We plan to
alternate roles as lead editress each semester. We have changed
the format from a newsletter to a mini-magazine to provide greater
variety and depth. We hope you will find this edition visually
interesting, practical and relevant. We have received input from
faculty as well as students of different backgrounds at different
points in their careers. The best part of our new approach is that it
is interactive. All of the information in the magazine will be included
in the blog, http://www.umdsocy.blogspot.com, where you can leave your
feedback on each segment. We look forward to your questions,
comments and suggestions!

The theme for this edition is Imagine. I thought this reference to C.
Wright Mills,’ The Sociological Imagination, would be appropriate
given the new ideas that the new cohort brings and the transitional
nature of the department, in general. Perhaps what has attracted
most of us to this doctoral program is not the PhD title—and
certainly not the torture associated with the process. For many
of us, it was our intellectual curiosity. Mills helped me to define
and hone it through his explanation of what he called the
sociological imagination.

“Nowadays men often feel that their private lives are a series of traps…What they need, and what they feel they need, is a quality of mind that will help them to use information and to develop reason in order to achieve lucid summations of what is going on in the world and of what may be happening within themselves. It is this quality, I am going to contend, that journalists and scholars, artists and publics, scientists and editors are coming to expect of what may be called the sociological imagination” (The Sociological Imagination, 1959, p.3).

The idea that one could attain a quality of mind to better understand
the multiple and subtle ways her life influenced and was influenced
by local and global forces, one could and could not see, piqued my
interest.

More importantly, I was concerned with how this quality of mind
helped sociologists address social problems. Karl Marx famously
stated: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various
ways–The point, however, is to change it.” The implicit challenge
in this statement calls us to use the skills and tools we have as
scholars to imagine a better society. Great scholars like W.E.B.
DuBois and Harriet Martineau’s visionary perspectives concerning
discrimination remind us that imagination is not simply the stuff of
dreams—it is foundational to social transformation.

As sociologists, we hold a mirror up to society and identify ways to
improve the portrait, in which, we are included (albeit not the central
focus). However, we can also hold up a mirror to ourselves and have
candid discussions concerning ways to make this department better
for the undergraduates, graduates and professors. We might begin
by posing questions such as: How might politics amongst faculty
members adversely affect the graduate students? How is the junior
faculty adjusting to the new department? What can students do to
reduce the time it takes to complete the program? How can students
help themselves to secure more funding? Is there a sense of mutual
respect between students and faculty members who do quantitative
or qualitative analysis? Why do certain classes tend to be male
dominated?

I do not pose these questions simply to be provocative, rather
they are grounded in my own experiences here. Once in a writing
workshop group professor Kestnbaum and Michelle Corbin opened
my eyes to the ways in which I had repeated practices of domination
in my writing—claiming my argument was valid because popular
scholars agreed with me, elevating my claim by elevating them. It is
important that we help each other to discern ways in which we may
repeat the protectionist, discriminatory practices we critique.

I think the students, in particular, can show our appreciation for this
department and this institution in general by working with faculty to
identify ways to enhance the program. After all, it is an honor to be a
student here. As students, we can imagine the ideal environment and
decide how to realize it given our skills and resources, which is what
I see several students doing already. In light of our workloads, this
task may seem superfluous and time consuming. Yet, imagine, what
if these ideas began with a simple contribution to this magazine, led
to an informal discussion and then became included on the Graduate
Student Forum agenda.

We hope this magazine can be light-hearted and fun, but also a
vehicle for students and faculty to discuss how they would like
to see the department grow. If we can stay connected to why
we really came to this field, we can continue to strengthen the
program—just imagine.

-Kathryn Buford

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