Alex Manning, assistant professor of sociology, joined the faculty in July 2020. Here he talks about how the study of sociology has helped him make sense of all that went on in 2020.
How did you adjust your teaching during this unusual semester?
I was a part of American Society, which is taught by four sociology professors ... for that, one thing I had to adjust was instead of a large lecture in-person, it was a large lecture on Zoom for 90 people. So basically what I tried to do was encourage folks to participate. Often in class ... you can just ask people, but Zoom doesn’t really encourage people to talk. So one of the things I did — and I read what other professors were doing — was to try to do shared working documents or just have people do writing time directly onto a page that everyone can see. Other than that, if I was doing a lecture, I would try to have polls and various ways to ask little things to kind of keep people engaged. Also, I relied on guest speakers … because of Zoom, it was kind of easier because everyone was online, and that doesn’t really disrupt the structure of a class.
Why did you start teaching?
We could go the socialization route. My mom was a public school teacher, so that was probably organically socialized into myself. I’ve also coached sports on the side, and I think that’s a big teaching element. I enjoy helping people be curious and critical, and I think teaching is one way you can do that, and facilitate that in a responsible and engaging way. And in general, when it goes well, you get a nice little buzz, you feel good about the day. And I think particularly with sociology, it’s something that’s helped me make sense of the world. As we live and exist in a society that often isn’t great, and people experience struggles — and joys, but a lot of struggles — I think teaching this stuff actually kind of gives me purpose as well.
Is there anything from your field that has helped you better understand what’s been going on during this crazy time?
Yeah, plenty. Just an example, since I taught Sports and Society, critically interrogating what sociology tells us about sports, and vice versa — the fact that, for instance, big-time college sports, the money-making sports, are just going on no matter what. … Wanting people to go to the games, kids risking their health without being compensated — there have been kids that, besides contracting COVID, have suffered and been hospitalized; it’s really scary. And this desire to keep it going. One way my sociology and what I’ve read helps me make sense of that is how people are deeply attached to certain rituals.
So, there’s deep attachment to these sporting events as consumption, or ritual, but also economic moneymakers. And then we do this whole thing about how people want an escape, right, and so interrogating what it is we are escaping from. There’s definitely the power, money-making aspect, but I think there’s also a desire that this represents normalcy, or what we construct as, socially, what we do —going to college basketball, football, etc. Disrupting that is a real scary thought for people, even if it’s a global pandemic, and it’s a national, global crisis. The power of this attachment, this escape, is telling and has huge consequences. And often it’s people who are privileged who want that escape.
Why did you choose Hamilton?
Hamilton offers a place where you can do teaching, plenty of it, but not have it burn you out. I came here because … I could still write, I could still do research on the topics I’m interested in. I think there’s a lot of support for that. When I came to visit, it was appealing to talk to the students. It was really cool to hear people’s interests, what they’re doing, what they’re trying to do. The intellectual curiosity was there, which was very compelling.
I enjoy helping people be curious and critical, and I think teaching is one way you can do that, and facilitate that in a responsible and engaging way.
How has your time here been so far?
It’s been interesting to do this during a pandemic, like move into Central New York and start to teach. But I feel like for a first semester, and given the circumstances, I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve really liked the classes I’ve taught, and interacting with students has been wonderful, so far — I haven’t read evaluations yet! But based off the general interactions it seems positive. In terms of the faculty and staff, too, very inviting and warm. Even during a pandemic, it doesn’t feel like I’m just here and then I teach a class online and I don’t talk to anybody. It hasn’t been that; it’s very much been an inviting place, socializing with people safely. I feel like I made relationships with people already, which is great, and is not necessarily the case everywhere.
Tell us about your research.
A big project is for my dissertation, which is about youth soccer in the United States — particularly what youth soccer tells us about race and racism, gender, social class, our ideas about diversity, and importantly, our ideas about what’s the purpose of sports and youth sports, and then tied to family life in America. [Another] thing I want to work on long term, and hopefully with some Hamilton students in the future, is about experiences of young people and injuries through sports.
What’s one of your favorite places on campus?
I like Martin’s Way. I’ve actually done a couple walks in the Root Glen, so that’s maybe two. And then third is the tennis courts. I’ve been trying to dabble in tennis, and I was just impressed [by] how nice they are. I’m not a good tennis player or anything, but that was one thing I was trying to do more during COVID. I played with Professor [Mo] Alloush in economics. We hacked it around one time.
What’s one of your favorite things about Hamilton?
Maybe it’s too obvious or too corny, but for me, it has been the students and their energy and excitement. That’s been number one. Number two — I’m a big fan of Café Opus. I actually do just kind of like when it was fall, the colors, the lawn, and stuff. All that was very idyllic.