Teaching Global Citizenship from a Sociological Perspective

What some of us can eat. (Photo by DMG)

What some of us can eat.
(Photo by DMG)

Introduction to Sociology textbooks are structured in similar fashions. Typically, the first chapters are dedicated to the individual’s relationship to society, including culture, socialization, groups, social structure, roles and statuses, norms, and deviance. One of the many themes of this section is that individuals have obligations to one another and to society—if not, society cannot function and life becomes, as Hobbes would say, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The second part focuses on inequality: stratification in the U.S., stratification worldwide, inequality by race and ethnicity, and gender inequality (sometimes sexuality is included here too). The third section pertains to social institutions, such as family, education, religion, healthcare, politics and the economy. Finally, the last section is a potpourri of topics that include, population, urbanism, the environment, and social change.

For me, one challenge of teaching global inequality is the difficulty in providing concrete examples that illuminate theories of global inequality—modernization theory, dependency theory, and world systems theory. I also spend a lot of time defining abstract terms like neocolonialism and globalization. In addition, the topic seems to be a little out of order; at this point of the course, many students are still focused on their own milieu and are not yet ready to think in global terms. To address this problem, I’ve put the section on global inequality later in the course—right after Politics and the Economy. In the section on politics, I focus on war. That gets me out of the U.S. and provides a bridge to discussing the global economy, which (as shown in the feature documentary film, Harvest of Empirehas much to do with war.

After defining the three theories of global stratification and globalization, I pose the following questions: If it is true that a society cannot exist without social norms and obligations to one another, and if there is more interaction between the worlds’ peoples due to globalization, what obligation do we have to others in the world? Is the rest of the world for us to exploit, or do citizens of the world have human rights that we must respect? Once students start exploring our obligation to others, I begin my discussion of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. This is driven home by the powerful and captivating documentary film, Not My Life. I then direct students to the website slaveryfootprint.org, where they can take a test to see how many slaves work for them.

Once students see the conditions that modern-day slaves work in and how they benefit, many begin thinking about what they can do to protect the human rights of the people in the world, from becoming informed consumers to working with nonprofits. They start becoming aware of how global capitalism produces global inequality, their position in a global community, and how their actions affect the world’s populations; in other words, they start becoming global citizens. As one student in my class said, “global citizenship is the best part of globalization.”

This entry was composed by Dr. John Fox, a faculty member of the Sociology Department in the Business and Social Sciences Division at Foothill College, and a member of the Give Students a Compass Faculty Learning Community in Silicon Valley.

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