Sociology 395-01
Spring 2002

Amanda Udis-Kessler

Class meets Tues.

Carnegie 111

from 10:00 to 11:50

Office Phone: 641-269-4733

and Thursday


from 10:00 to 10:50

Office Hours: MWF 2:15-4:05 and by appointment

in Carnegie 304


Over the past decade or so, the concept of privilege has found its way into the work of social scientists, corporate diversity trainers, social justice activists and writers, and others.  This way of thinking about inequality received a jump-start with the pioneering work of Peggy McIntosh in the 1980s, and has since flourished in an unusual combination of settings.  Privilege has not, however, yet received an adequate sociological grounding, perhaps because it first developed in non-sociological settings and has mostly remained in them.  A handful of sociologists have developed “privilege lists” akin to Peggy McIntosh’s original list, but only one sociologist (Allan Johnson) has done more extended work on the subject.

This course is intended to help us begin answering two questions:

  1. How (if at all) can viewing inequality through a privilege lens enrich the sociological study of inequality?
  2. How (if at all) can bringing sociology to bear on the concept of privilege open up as yet undeveloped elements of the concept?

We’ll begin the semester by acquainting ourselves with McIntosh’s and Johnson’s work on privilege.  We’ll then begin the task of bringing sociology to bear on the concept of privilege by considering reproduction theory, closure theory, and the cyclical nature of institutional inequality across generations (focusing on home, school and work).  Following the section on institutional inequality, we will take a leisurely look at some of the ways that white privilege has been analyzed, both to deepen our understanding of the nature of white privilege and to see whether earlier sections of the course have anything to add to the white privilege literature.  We will then consider what Patricia Hill Collins has called the “interlocking systems of oppression” of race, class and gender inequality in light of our focus on privilege, concluding this unit with consideration of the “middle-classing” of the lesbian/gay movement.  Finally, we will turn our attention to anti-privilege activism, including the work of anti-homophobic heterosexuals, anti-racist whites (including the “race traitor” movement) and anti-sexist men in order to assess the strengths and weaknesses of such forms of activism from both a personal and sociological perspective.


By the end of this semester, I intend for you to:

  • Understand some of the gifts that the concept of privilege and the study of sociology have to offer each other, as well as some of the limits of the concept of privilege in understanding social inequality
  • Extend your comprehension of various forms of inequality, how they intersect with each other, and how they impact people
  • Have a more sophisticated understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of anti-privilege activism
  • Be able to apply the course concepts and perspectives to your own life, particularly where your
  • privileged social locations are concerned.

The following books are available in the College Bookstore and on reserve in Burling Library:

Johnson, Privilege, Power and Difference
O’Brien, Whites Confront Racism
Rothenberg, White Privilege

A coursepack is under development.  For the beginning of the semester (and potentially throughout the semester), we will rely on handouts.  Please note that all handouts will be provided at the class before they are due to be read.  If you miss a class, please obtain readings for the next class from me as soon as possible.

Please do the reading ahead of time.  You will find that it significantly aids in your ability to understand the lecture, and will also enable you to participate more fully in the discussions.


A.  Privilege conference write-up/activism write-up:  The class will be attending a two-day conference on white privilege.  You will be asked to write a critical review of the conference following your attendance.  If, for some reason, you are unable to attend the conference, you may replace this course requirement with a write-up of anti-privilege activism that you carry out during the semester.  The write-up will count for 10% of your final grade.

B.  Journal entries:  A course such as this one necessarily entails emotional responses; some of the material may touch you on a very personal level.  In order to give you space for your personal responses while leaving class time largely free to talk about the issues on an academic level, I am asking that you keep a course journal.  The journal may include your personal responses to the material at any level that you feel comfortable entrusting them to paper; it may also include any thoughts you have about the material that you do not share in class.  Additionally, this course requirement will involve your development over the semester of an extended list of privileges that you experience.  At four points during the semester, I will ask you to turn in your journal.  More information will be provided about this course requirement early in the semester.  Each journal collection will count for five percent of your final grade, for a total of 20%.

C.  Major project:  You will be asked to write a major paper (15-20 pages) on some topic in the area of privilege.  While this paper must have an academic component, it may also have an activism component; that is, you can bring your anti-privilege activism into this project.  A list of specific topic ideas will be handed out early in the semester; other ideas are welcome, provided they are discussed with the instructor first.  A paper proposal must be handed in to me no later than February 19, 2002.  Parameters for the paper, and for the paper proposal, will be handed out with the list of topic ideas.  Your paper will be the basis of a presentation in which you lead class, including facilitating a discussion about your work.  Please note that this paper and presentation effectively takes the place of a midterm and final exam.  The major paper will count for 30% of your final grade and the presentation for 20%, for a total of 50%.

D:  Attendance and participation:  Regular classroom attendance is both expected and absolutely crucial in this course.  Beyond the negative impact that irregular or casual attendance will have on your comprehension and performance, in a seminar of this size, every person has a vital role to play.  If you miss a class session, it is your responsibility to contact me and/or other students in order to make up lost work.  Attendance and participation in discussion (and other class activities where relevant) will count for 20% of your final grade.

Please be aware that there will be no extra credit work in this course.


The grading distribution will be as follows:

A  = 94 and up
A- = 90-93
B+= 87-89
B  = 84-86
B- = 80-83
C+= 76-79
C  = 70-75
D  = 60-69
F  = 59 and below

Please be aware that you will be graded in part on the quality of your writing, including the correct use of grammar.  You are strongly encouraged to make appointments with staff at the Writing Lab to discuss rough drafts of papers, and to make use of a dictionary and thesaurus in order to write in the clearest and most compelling way possible.  I will be handing out a sheet on criteria by which your papers will be graded. 

In general, late work will be penalized a grade fraction for every class meeting that it is late (e.g., A- to B+, C to D).  Should a situation arise during the semester in which an assignment is late for personal or medical reasons beyond your control, I will not penalize the grade at all.  You only need to give me a note from a doctor or other individual in a position of authority who can testify to the circumstances behind your being late on the work.  Please note that I am not authorized to grant incompletes without permission from the Registrar.


As your Student Handbook indicates, you may not incorporate either the ideas or the assistance of others into your written work without direct and explicit acknowledgment.  To do otherwise, including use of the Writing Lab without acknowledgment, constitutes cheating.  I encourage you to use the Writing Lab, to discuss with others ideas raised in class or in assignments that you find interesting, and to make appropriate use of quotations in your writing.  In order to keep these behaviors acceptable, you will simply need to either add a note of acknowledgment in your writing assignment or use the proper American Sociological Association citation style when you wish to quote other material.  (I will hand out ASA reference style guidelines shortly.) 


Section I:  Privilege: A New Way of Conceptualizing Inequality

Tuesday, 1/22:

Introduction to Course: Who Are We? and What is Privilege?

Thursday, 1/24:

Where it All Began


1) McIntosh, “White Privilege and Male Privilege” (handout)

Tuesday, 1/29:

Sociologists Confront Privilege: Allan Johnson


1) Johnson, Privilege, Power and Difference, Introduction and Chapters 1-5

Thursday, 1/31:

Johnson, cont.


1) Johnson, Privilege, Power and Difference, Chapters 6-8

Section II: Grounding Privilege Sociologically: Theories of Inequality

Tuesday, 2/5:

Sociological Theory and the Reproduction of Privilege


1) Buchman, “Social Structure and Action Theories” (handout)

2) Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital” (handout)

3) Messner, “White Guy Habitus in the Classroom” (handout)

4) MacLeod, “Social Reproduction in Theoretical Perspective” (handout)

Thursday, 2/7:

Social Theory, Closure and Privilege


1) Parkin, “Social Closure and Class Formation” (handout/coursepack)

2) Murphy, “An Introduction to the Theory of Closure” (handout/coursepack)

3) Merton, “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy” (handout/coursepack)

Section III: Grounding Privilege Sociologically: Institutional Inequality

Tuesday, 2/12:

Segregation and Privilege


1) Barndt, “Institutional Racism” (handout/coursepack)

2) Cherry, “Institutionalized Discrimination” (handout/coursepack)

3) Mahoney, “Residential Segregation and White Privilege” (handout/coursepack)

4) Armstrong, “Privilege in Residential Housing” (handout/coursepack)

First journal installment due today

Thursday, 2/14:

Differential Education and Privilege


1) Anyon, “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work” (handout/coursepack)

2) Oakes, “Keeping Track” (handout/coursepack)

3) Dizard, “Achieving Place” (handout/coursepack)

Tuesday, 2/19:

Work, Privilege and the “Secession of the Successful”


1) Reich, Work of Nations, Chapters 14, 17, 21-24 (handout/coursepack)

Proposal for major project due today

Section IV:  Some Ways to Approach White Privilege

Thursday, 2/21: 

Whiteness: The Power of Invisibility


1) Rothenberg, White Privilege, Introduction and Part 1

Tuesday, 2/26:

Whiteness: The Power of the Past


1) Rothenberg, White Privilege, Part 2

Thursday, 2/28:

Whiteness: Racial Formation


1) Omi and Winant, “Racial Formation” (handout/coursepack)

2) Roediger, Wages of Whiteness, Chapters 1, 7 (handout/coursepack)

Tuesday, 3/5:

Whiteness: The Power of Privilege


1) Rothenberg, White Privilege, Part 3 (skip reading #2)

2) Kincheloe et al, White Reign, Foreword and Chapter 4 (handout/coursepack)

Second journal installment due today

Thursday, 3/7:

White Reconstruction Projects


1) Winant, “Behind Blue Eyes” (handout/coursepack)

2) Gallagher, “White Reconstruction in the University” (handout/coursepack)

Section V: The Interlocking Matrix of Privilege and Oppression

Tuesday, 3/12:

Setting the Stage


1) Collins, Black Feminist Thought, Chapter 11(handout/coursepack)

2) Weis et al, “Re-examining ‘A Moment in History’” (handout/coursepack)

Thursday, 3/14:



1) Ostrander, Women of the Upper Class, Chapter 7 (handout/coursepack)

2) Zweigenhaft and Domhoff, Diversity in the Power Elite, Chapter 7 (handout/coursepack)

3) Feagin, “The Continuing Significance of Race” (handout/coursepack)

Saturday, 3/16-Sunday, 3/31: Spring break.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 4/2:

The “Middle-Classing” of the Lesbian/Gay Movement


1) D’Emilio, “Capitalism and Gay Identity” (handout/coursepack)

2) Valocchi, “The Class-Inflected Nature of Gay Identity” (handout/coursepack)

3) Knopp, “Gentrification and Gay Neighborhood Formation in New Orleans” (handout/coursepack)

Thursday, 4/4:

Where Has Gay Liberation Gone?”


1) Gluckman and Reed, “The Gay Marketing Moment” (handout/coursepack)

2) Baker, “A History in Ads” (handout/coursepack)

3) Smith, “Where Has Gay Liberation Gone?” (handout/coursepack)

Third journal installment due today

Section VI: Anti-Privilege Activism

Tuesday, 4/9:

Trials and Triumphs of Anti-Privilege Activism


1) Johnson, Privilege, Power and Difference, Chapters 9, 10

2) Chassler, “Listening” (handout/coursepack)

3) Gray, “Sharing the Shop Floor” (handout/coursepack)

We are likely to either see a video or have a guest speaker (possibly both) during class today.  Both the video and the speaker focus on anti-homophobia activism.

Thursday, 4/11:

Resisting White Privilege


1) Rothenberg, White Privilege, Part 4

2) Thompson et al, “Home/Work” (handout/coursepack)

Tuesday, 4/16:

Sociologists Study Whites Confronting Racism


1) O’Brien, Whites Confront Racism, Preface and Chapters 1-4

Thursday-Friday, 4/18-4/19:


Tuesday, 4/23:

O’Brien, cont.


1) O’Brien, Whites Confront Racism, Chapters 5-7 and Appendices

Thursday, 4/25:

Race Traitors


1) Ignatiev, “Treason to Whiteness is Loyalty to Humanity” (handout/coursepack)

2) Ignatiev, “How to Be a Race Traitor” (handout/coursepack)

3) Readings TBA from Race Traitor journal and the Race Traitor edited collection of writings

Final journal installment due today

Tuesday, 4/30:

Class cancelled as a make-up “day off” for the Pella conference

Students are encouraged to meet with professor to go over presentations.

Major paper due today no later than 5 PM.  Papers should be brought to professor’s office before that time.

Section VII: Student Presentations

Thursday, 5/2 – Thursday, 5/9:

Student Presentations and Course Wrap-Up


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