University of Toronto Press Blog

  • Unpacking the Everyday

    Newly released from UTP, Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition is an innovative text that provides undergraduate students with tools to think sociologically through the lens of everyday life. In this post, the authors explain the book and why they encourage students to turn their social worlds inside out and explore alternatives to the dominant social order.


    By Deborah Brock, Aryn Martin, Rebecca Raby, and Mark P. Thomas.

    Our new book Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition encourages students to explore everyday practices that are familiar and that might, at first glance, seem benign: online shopping, using a credit card, buying a cup of coffee, even taking an online quiz. By “everyday” we mean the practices that are a part of people’s commonplace and taken-for-granted activities. But people’s everyday activities reflect, reproduce, and sometimes challenge a wide range of power relations. In Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition we will encourage you to ask questions about these kinds of practices. We ask how: How are everyday occurrences connected to the social organization of power? How are gender, class, race, citizenship and age shaped and reflected in many such taken-for-granted practices? How are the goods that we are buying produced, and by whom? How do practices such as travelling, shopping, and getting a credit card reflect and reproduce power, even creating our very sense of who we are? We also address the why questions that these examples will no doubt bring to mind: Why are certain patterns of consumption encouraged and facilitated? And who benefits from these patterns?

    For example, even that café latte some cherish as an everyday ritual reflects a geography, history, and economy of power relations. These relations become visible when we begin to study where coffee beans come from, who grows and harvests them, how they come to be ground and sold in drinks, and how they are marketed to the North American consumer. The choice to buy a cup of coffee— including what kind of coffee and where it is bought—is a practice embedded in a global web of power relations. The places we shop, the products we buy, and the websites we visit are all a part of a system of consumption that links us to people, places, and things that seem very distant from our own lives.

    We ask students to explore popular culture and mass media to understand how they are permeated with power relations: selling certain kinds of images, promoting individualized self-improvement, cultivating desires that support a consumer culture, and through these practices, reproducing power relations of race, gender, heterosexuality, ability, and a narrow concept of beauty. How are we pressured to try to shape ourselves to better fit a presumed ideal?

    The chapters in this textbook address the diverse power relations embedded in such everyday objects and practices. They complicate objects and practices that many of us take for granted and offer new, sometimes unsettling ways of thinking about them. They illustrate how a cup of coffee is never just a cup of coffee and why a quiz is never just a quiz. When we begin to examine everyday objects and practices in this way, we also begin a process of “unpacking the centre.”

    Most sociological textbooks do not directly investigate what we will refer to here as the centre. It is much more common for them to analyze social deviance through the lens of the normative social order, or to focus on what happens to people who exist at the margins: the racialized, the colonized, the so-called sexual “minorities,” the poor, and so on. Some scholars have instead focused on studying the centre in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how power relations are organized. They “unpack” the centre—just like taking apart a piece of mechanical equipment—in order to find out how it works. To focus almost exclusively on the deviant or the marginalized without interrogating the centre is to risk reproducing a pattern that defines the margins as the location of the problem.

    For example, we think it imperative to conduct sociological research on same-gender sexuality in order to document the forms of systemic and attitudinal inequality that marginalize people because of their sexual desires and practices. However, when scholars focus on same-gender sexuality while ignoring the social construction of heterosexuality, we continue to name same-gender attraction, including being gay, lesbian or bisexual as, in effect, the problem for sociological inquiry, even though our objective may be to explain why these forms of sexuality should not be considered a problem. Heterosexuality is able to maintain its privileged position as the normal and natural form of sexual expression.  The binary two-gender system is another way in which our relation to ourselves and others is normatively, and narrowly, organized. Yet this system de-legitimates or erases a vast array of possibilities for living one’s life. Why the insistence that there are only two genders, when they limit possibilities for so many of us, and substantial numbers of people refuse to be contained by them?  Whiteness is another social characteristic that occupies the centre. Academic and public accounts of racism commonly focus on the impact of racism on people of colour, and ignore the social construction of whiteness and the relations of power and privilege connected to whiteness. The social organization of whiteness, however, is an important part of practices of racialization and the problems of racism. Racism is also perpetuated when those who occupy the centre fail to acknowledge systematic historic and current racial and cultural ideas and practices that are deeply connected to colonialism and the marginalization of Indigenous peoples.

    This approach to studying the social organization of everyday objects and practices draws attention to what sociologists have long referred to as patterns of social inequality. We are interested in power primarily because of the ways it produces and sustains inequalities between social groups. We do not, however, simply focus on patterns of social inequality as the outcome of power. While themes of inequality are certainly present in the chapters in this book, our approach seeks to understand the social organization of dominant power relations in terms of the ways in which these power relations shape both broad patterns of inequality and everyday experiences. In other words, we do not simply aim to document different levels of socioeconomic status, as stratification theorists often do (Aronowitz 2003); rather, we are interested in the social relations that produce and reproduce the “normal,” the dominant, and the “centre.” This means our analysis focuses on understanding relationships between social processes, social groups, and individuals as they live their daily lives.

    To unpack the centre is to explore the taken for granted features of dominant forms of social organization. It is the most difficult to see that a centre exists when you occupy it— for example, when you are white, heterosexual, a citizen, or someone with an ample secure income. It is not so difficult when you are an Indigenous person, a non-citizen, do not identify as straight, are racialized, or are in some way minoritized. We want you to become particularly aware of the ways in which centuries of colonization have placed the descendants of colonizers in a position of assumed ownership of the homelands of Indigenous peoples, for which they typically never ceded title. Finally, the experiences of migrant workers reveal how citizenship and national belonging are part of the centre, even while they might wish such acceptance for themselves. In Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition we aim to show how these active and ongoing social processes are integral to everyday life.


    Want to learn more from Power and Everyday Practices, Second Edition?

    • Purchase your copy of the book.
    • Read an exclusive chapter.
    • Email us at requests@utorontopress.com to request exam or desk copies of this or any other UTP title. Please be sure to include the course name and number, start date, and estimated enrollment.

    Deborah Brock is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at York University.

    Aryn Martin is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at York University.

    Rebecca Raby is a professor in the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University.

    Mark P. Thomas is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at York University.

  • Work Your Career: How Can I Be Productive?

    As summer winds down, are you prepared to tackle the term? Work Your Career authors Loleen Berdahl and Jonathan Malloy share an excerpt from their helpful guide, offering practical advice on how you can get (and stay) organized.


    Excerpt taken from Work Your Career, by Loleen Berdahl and Jonathan Malloy. 

    Professionalism means doing what you say you will do and by when you say you will do it. You cement your professional reputation by getting things done—and done well, on or ahead of schedule. This requires the ability to manage time, resources, and energy to make this happen, over and over. By carefully managing your time and your projects, you will be more thorough, meet deadlines, and avoid accidentally missing steps.

    Most productivity and time management tips are written for business audiences. The target reader works at a desk managing projects with clear, looming deadlines and has a boss who is highly interested in the worker delivering something (reports, analyses, new code, corporate strategies, etc.) by a specific date. No deliverable, no profit, and soon no job for the employee. These books tend to assume that the reader needs more time—sweet, uninterrupted blocks of time—to work on something with clear parameters and built-in boundaries.

    PhD students face a very different challenge. While taking classes, you have various paper deadlines to balance and possible teaching or research assistant responsibilities. After classes are done, you are trying to coordinate reading literature with dissertation-related writing, more teaching or research work, a panel that you are organizing, and so on. But these responsibilities are typically done within a context of large amounts of unstructured time. The illusion of abundant time can be overwhelming, and the projects themselves get more challenging. Scholarly life is full of theoretical and empirical rabbit holes and blind alleys that can drain your time and energy. Again, dissertations in the social sciences and humanities lean toward the model of “go away and think,” and students are provided with limited direct guidance and supervision. Not only is this a route to inefficiency and years of drift, it also undermines the building of professional habits and demeanour.

    Deliberately building project management skills increases your prospects for career success. And like other aspects of professionalism, it requires careful attention. Fulfilling your project commitments, and doing so in a way that allows you to retain some degree of quality of life, won’t necessarily happen naturally. Four basic steps that you tailor to your personal energy patterns and circumstances can ensure that you are achieving your goals while maintaining quality of life.

    Step 1: Make a list of what needs to be done

    Quite often, people try to just keep everything straight in their heads. The problem is that it is easy to forget things or to remember them inaccurately. The solution is simple: To determine what needs to be done, you need to get organized by writing a list of everything you have committed to and the associated deadlines.

    “Wait,” you might be saying, “this is rather obvious.” Of course it is. But just like “eat right and exercise” is obvious but frequently ignored advice for healthy living, the practice of listing commitments and deadlines remains a habit that many PhD students have yet to adopt. If you have already done so, good for you: You have our full permission to enjoy a well-deserved sense of self-satisfaction. For our more mortal readers, let’s get down to business. Start with a large “brain dump” of commitments for a specific time period. (The academic semester is a good place to start.) Are you taking classes? If so, check each class syllabus and then list all of the readings, papers, exams, lab projects, presentations, and other class tasks, noting the associated dates. Are you working as a teaching assistant? Again, check the class syllabus and list all of the class tutorials, exam dates, paper dates, and other TA-related responsibilities and their dates. Are you working as a research assistant? Working on a conference paper? Do you have committee responsibilities? Other responsibilities that we have failed to mention? Do your best to think of everything you have to do over a specified time period, and then scan both your calendar and your email to see if there is anything you have missed. The more complete your list, the better. List complete? Excellent. Now just reorganize the list by due date and you have a clear picture of what needs to be done.

    What do I do if I have taken on too much?

    Feeling overwhelmed is awful. The panic in your chest, the feeling that you are going to let people down, that you will need to do nothing but work and more work for weeks or months, the associated anxiety and insomnia … It is the worst. And the fears that are associated with it are often well based: If you are someone who fails to meet commitments, who is constantly behind on timelines and long on excuses, it reflects poorly on your professionalism. At a certain point people may start to perceive you as either unreliable, incompetent, or both.

    If the amount you have on your plate is not realistic relative to the time available, you need to identify where you can make changes. Are there any committed times that could be reduced? Is working fewer hours in your part-time job, or getting help with family responsibilities, or reducing commute times an option? (You may be tempted to cut back on sleep, fitness, or personal hygiene. Please don’t.) Chances are good that your ability to make change in the committed time part of the equation is quite low. So then you must ask, are there any projects on your list that you don’t really need to do at this point in time? Or are there some steps within the projects that can be removed or streamlined?

    Ideally, you can solve your overload problem well in advance: You can tell people that you will need to decline a particular opportunity for now, or that you will need to have someone work with you to complete it, or that you will do it for a later deadline. These conversations can require a certain degree of bravery, but it is better to be upfront with people as early as possible rather than disappoint or anger them at a later stage. On the plus side, the discomfort of disentangling yourself from overcommitment may serve you well in the long run as you instinctively avoid taking on too much in the future.

    As we have said at several points in this book, be attuned to your mental health and wellness. Seek balance and support networks; check in regularly with a counsellor or other source of assistance. Everyone feels stressed and overwhelmed sometimes; learn to ask for help in identifying when it is too much, and seek the support you need.

    Step 2: Break activities down into smaller tasks, distinguishing between high- and low-energy tasks

    Start with the list that you created in step 1. Now look carefully to see how you can break the items down into discrete tasks. For example, the paper due on October 31 requires numerous individual steps to complete it: creating an outline, searching the library database for relevant sources, reading these sources, writing a first draft, editing the draft, writing a second draft, completing the bibliography, and so forth. This detailed list allows you to create target completion dates to keep you on track and, importantly, to manage your time and energy strategically.

    When you look at the more detailed list, it should be apparent that some tasks (such as writing, reading, or data analysis) must be done when you are at your peak, and other tasks (such as editing a bibliography) can be done when your energy levels are lower. By clearly labelling tasks as high or low energy, you can strategically assign the high-energy tasks to those time periods during which you are usually highly productive, creative, and energetic, and assign the low-energy tasks to the times when you are usually a bit spent out. (At this point in your life, you probably have a good idea of which times are which for you; if you are not sure, just pay attention to your energy levels for a few days.) Your goal is to protect your high-energy periods for high-energy work, and restrict all low-energy work and other activities (like dental appointments and coffee meetings) to low-energy times; to do this, you need to clearly label the tasks.

    Step 3: Block work time into your calendar

    The trick to getting things done (and done well and on time) is to schedule the work times into your calendar and to respect these times. Remember, an unstructured schedule and its illusion of endless time is your enemy; imposing structure on your days is necessary. Doing so is simple:

    1. Block off all committed times (classes, work hours, commute times, sleep, fitness, family responsibilities, etc.) in your calendar.

    2. For each task and project, estimate the number of hours you will need. Because most things take longer than you assume, and to provide cushion in case of unanticipated events (illness, transit strikes, broken water heaters, etc.), increase this number by 50 per cent.

    3. Working back from the deadline, schedule task-specific working time in your calendar, assigning high-energy tasks to the high-energy time slots.

    Now, in doing this process, you may be prone to optimism (“I don’t need to increase the project hours. My original estimates are realistic.”). We understand. But imagine—just as a thought exercise— that we are right that things tend to take longer than anticipated and that life sometimes throws curveballs. Blocking the extra time into your calendar allows you to quickly identify if you have taken on too much and then make needed adjustments. Of course, if your original estimates are accurate, there is risk of turning down opportunities that you could have completed. For this reason, we suggest that you treat the thought exercise as just that. But if your gut is telling you that you might have taken on too much, respect that and proceed cautiously.

    Be strategic in how you enter things into your calendar. It is imperative that you save your high-quality times for high-quality tasks. The most important thing to schedule is your writing time. Social science and humanities doctoral programs involve a lot of writing: Most courses involve written assignments, and after courses are done there is (in most traditional programs) the dissertation proposal, the dissertation itself, and other writing that you seek to complete. Writing should therefore be paramount in your schedule, and we strongly suggest regularly scheduled short writing sessions (e.g., every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 to 11 a.m., or every Monday to Friday from 1 to 2 p.m.). This approach, admittedly, goes against the typical academic binge-writing style, in which the author procrastinates and then completes all the writing tasks within a large block of time, like a second-year student cramming for a final exam. To be sure, there can be a time for binge writing. But like binge eating and binge television watching, it has both short-term satisfactions and long-term consequences, and inevitably the former exceed the latter. Regularly scheduled writing may not fully eliminate the need for occasional binge writing, but it can reduce it (and the associated stress) dramatically.

    To make the best use of high-energy time, you need to consciously batch together low-quality tasks (e.g., getting books from library, checking citations and bibliographies) and commit to addressing them only during low-energy periods in the day. Email in particular can suck up time and energy with little payoff. Make a decision to file email into a batch folder that you will address at a prescheduled low-energy time; during your high-quality work times respond only to email that, if not addressed immediately, may result in someone bursting into flames.

    How can I take advantage of unexpected time?

    Most weeks include a fair bit of relatively useless time. Sometimes this time is structured into your schedule (commuting time or time sitting on the pool deck while your child takes a swim class) and at other points it is unanticipated (time waiting outside your supervisor’s office because his department meeting is running long). Sometimes it can be good to just stop, take a breath, and relax looking at online cat videos (so cute!). But sometimes it is nice to make use of this time, and you can plan ahead for these opportunities by ensuring your writing projects are accessible through the mobile device you are undoubtedly carrying. The three-minute note here and the five-minute idea there will actually add up to paragraphs, and the perennially growing file creates within you a sense that the project is moving, while eliminating the frustrating “start up” time that can occur if you don’t work on a project regularly. If you adopt this practice, you will start to see small windows of time as bonus time. A friend is late to meet you for coffee? Great, you can edit your introduction! Your child has a 30-minute gymnastics class that you sit through every Monday night? Awesome, you can aim to write 150 words each time. This approach needs to be tempered; you should never feel that every second must be used efficiently. But if you can tackle some tasks during found time, you can free up more time for other things in the future. Which, we must stress, could include a run by the river, or beer with a friend.

    Step 4: Work your calendar

    Ah, plans. Like fitness schedules and New Year’s resolutions, making them is the easy part. But the execution, well, that takes discipline. And this is where the difference between the professionals and the others shows itself.

    Scheduled writing is often the most challenging commitment to keep—which is ironic, since this single activity is most associated with a PhD student’s success (or lack thereof). Honouring your scheduled writing commitment as much as you would honour a class, meeting, or other work obligation is the sign of a true professional. But it can be hard: While thinking about writing is exhilarating, and reflecting on completed writing is satisfying, the in-between period—you know, the actual writing—invokes a broad array of emotions, not all of which are pleasant. As well, the more theoretical and interpretive your work is, the more likely it is that writing is the primary or even sole activity itself, as opposed to gathering and analyzing empirical, documentary, or archival data and then writing about it, making writing even more paralyzing.

    Many writing problems occur because people are trying to plan, write, and edit simultaneously. To get around this, start with a clear outline and then focus your daily efforts on small units within the outline. Allow yourself to put ideas in point form, making notes to yourself in the draft to be dealt with at a later time (e.g., “insert three to four sentences about Jones et al. here,” “add citations”). Avoid the temptation to edit as you go along so that your creative thoughts, which will generate the innovative ideas that matter to your work and your discipline, are not impaired by your more critical editorial thoughts. Aim to get a full first draft completed before you turn to editing the work. The more you focus on small sections and just getting ideas down, the more your writing time can actually be allocated to … writing.

    Working your writing time—treating it like the heart of your job—is key to your professional success. It can be tempting to schedule something else in the writing time slot “just this once,” or to fail to use the time wisely when you are in it. And it can be tempting to use low-quality tasks as “short” breaks during your productive periods (“this paragraph isn’t really going anywhere … I’ll work on my passport renewal form”). Remember that tasks expand to fill the time available, and the task might end up killing your productivity for the day. The small writing time investments add up to significant results. And the more frequently one does something, the easier it becomes, as both the runner and the smoker can attest. Use the power of habit and routine to your advantage. To further your progress, consider establishing a writing group that provides support and creates a sense of accountability.

    Making it a practice to repeat these four steps will develop your professional image. You will get projects done on time, giving others the sense that you are on top of things and take your work seriously. People will notice that you are organized and competent, and they will respect you for this. Plus, you will have time to join them for a squash game or coffee.


    Loleen Berdahl is Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and co-author of Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD.

    Jonathan Malloy is Professor at Carleton University, and co-author of Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD.

  • Life's Negotiable: College as Negotiation

    With the back to school season approaching, The Bartering Mindset author Brian Gunia shares how thinking about college as a negotiation can help you navigate everything from new roommates to getting help with that tough assignment. Here's how.


    People don’t typically think of college as a negotiation. Just like other aspects of life, though, it is – actually a bunch of them. And just like other aspects of life, thinking of it that way can make life negotiable.

    With the back-to-school season approaching, let’s unpack what in the world I’m talking about and why it matters. In particular, let’s consider the following five situations commonly faced by a college student and why it might help to think of them as negotiations, defined here as discussions with interdependent parties to resolve partially conflicting goals:

    1. Dividing the labor. The seemingly omnipresent group project almost automatically necessitates a discussion about who will do what. Though students might think of such discussions as purely collaborative – and hopefully they are! – they’re negotiations insofar as anyone’s preferences don’t perfectly align – and typically they don’t! Thinking of these discussions as negotiations should help you, the college student, build on points of disagreement, particularly by finding ways to ensure everyone’s at least sharing the load through tasks they find manageable or worthy of learning.

    2. Setting the rules. Anyone who’s ever lived with a roommate – or several – knows that a common room or house does not guarantee a common set of assumptions about appropriate behavior. An open discussion of the obvious flashpoints before they flash, however, should help to prevent any flashing from happening – or at least provide a common reference point when it does.

    3. Negotiating work-life balance. College students are notoriously stressed by the competing demands of work and life. But achieving work-life balance really involves negotiating thoughtfully with yourself. Thinking of it that way can prevent you from driving yourself crazy.

    4. Negotiating fair terms. Fellow professors, please forgive me. But you, the student, should consider yourself entitled to certain basic benefits from all of us (or at least our TAs). A non-exhaustive list might include an accurate syllabus, clear teaching, assistance with tough concepts, explanations of grading decisions, and referrals to additional resources if needed. (Please note the conspicuous absence of “the grade you want.”) If you’re not getting what you reasonably deserve, though, you might consider the situation a negotiation, though you might omit that term from the conversation with your professor.

    5. Requesting course assistance. The bad thing about college is that some courses seem impossible. The good thing about college is that different students consider different courses impossible. If you need some help from a particular course guru, don’t miss the opportunity to ask. By the same token, if you happen to be the course guru yourself, don’t hesitate to help. In the first case, they’ll surely make a reciprocal request later. In the second, you’ll make the request – or at least you’ll make yourself a friend or earn yourself a root beer. You might not think of such requests as negotiations. But trades like these actually lie at the heart of negotiation, as described in my negotiation book, The Bartering Mindset.

    To conclude, it’s probably reasonable to think about college as a big bundle of negotiations. Since you go to college to educate yourself anyway, why not treat your college years as one big opportunity to learn negotiation too?


    Brian C. Gunia is Associate Professor at the Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University, and the author of The Bartering Mindset: A Mostly Forgotten Framework for Mastering Your Next Negotiation.

  • Good Luck Out There: Simple Solutions for Getting into the School Swing

    In the first of our Back to School series, author Andrea Olive offers simple tips on tips on how to keep your “first-day-mojo” going – at least until you can hit that snooze button in late December.


    Your first day. This is probably peak college. Today you are organized, and you are ready to learn. Your clothes are clean, you remembered your lunch, you got a parking space, and you found the right room. This is exciting.

    Unfortunately, it is likely all downhill from here. Actually, it will be uphill – steep and Sisyphean for a lot of you. If you don’t get that reference, look it up – you are in college after all.

    Did you Google it? I am waiting.

    It sounds terrible, right? Knowledge is just one big rock that has to be pushed uphill repeatedly. College is meant to be challenging – but this is exactly what makes it meaningful.

    Luckily, I have a few tips on how to keep your “first-day-mojo” going until you can finally hit the snooze button in late December. And these tips are pretty simple.

    First, let’s cover the bare-minimum basics: sleep, water, and nutrition. These apply to college and pretty much every day after that. Sleep eight hours out of every twenty-four hours. Drink water regularly (but not before sleeping). Take a vitamin. Seriously, just take a vitamin because I know you don’t eat healthy now (I’ve seen your food selections at the cafeteria) let alone when you are cramming for an exam between the two jobs you have decided you have time for this semester. Leave bottles of water (in reusable containers, because the planet is a whole other problem) and your vitamins in a visible place – your desk, your car, at the front door, in the bathroom… I don’t care. Just make it easy for yourself to see them because that makes it more likely you will use them.

    Now that you are healthy enough to make it to class, you should shut off your phone. (No one in the history of the planet uses their iPhone to “take notes” or read scholarship. Just no.) In fact, shut off your phone right now so that you can focus long enough to read the rest of this. Unless you are reading it on your phone, of course. (The off button is on the right – just hold it down and the phone will ask if you are really serious about turning it off. Swipe to off.)

    Oh, you brought your laptop to class, didn’t you? Sneaky. You think you are going to take notes on it. You are actually going to Google fact-check something and then before you know it, you will be on Instagram looking at photos of your ex’s sister’s wedding from two summers ago.

    I would recommend that you download an app that can prevent you from going down this road. Use an app like Freedom or Anti-Social to prevent you from accessing the Internet. This isn’t permanent. Just set it for the duration of class. And then use it while studying.

    The struggle is real. You probably googled “Freedom App” and found yourself on Reddit. It happens to the best of us. This is why we need help. Consider it.

    Better yet, leave your computer in your bag. You do not really need it for class. You just need paper and a pen. (We professors like to say: In university, the pen is always mightier than the keyboard. Hahaha.) But this might be too radical, and it probably makes me sound 100 years old. Besides, deforestation is a serious problem and every kid can’t just be using paper like it grows on trees.

    Okay, open your computer again. Take notes on it. But you have to save the file to your desktop. And then you have to save it to the iCloud. (I actually have no idea how that works so maybe don’t trust me on that.) But the point is, you need to create backup files. Your dog isn’t going to eat your homework if it is on the computer. But your house could burn down. That happens in real life. So, email the files to yourself.

    Come to class a few minutes early and make time to linger around after the end. This is how you meet friends. And class friends are so important. You can study together. You can share notes. You can complain to each other. And you can just talk about a mutual interest – namely, the course content. (Yes, you should be interested in the classes you take.)

    Thus far you are healthy and attending class. That is pretty much how you succeed in college. That is the big secret. But if you want to totally rock it, I would recommend a few other things in no particular order:

    Correctly spell your professor’s name in emails and on assignments. That is just good manners. And it will go a long way in earning their trust and respect. Never call your professor “hey.” Titles are confusing and names can be hard to pronounce. But you will never go wrong with “professor.”

    Do not post your class notes on the Internet. You think you are helping friends, but it turns out that you misunderstood something and now you have misinformed the planet. The world has enough problems already. Just keep your notes to yourself.

    Buy the books. Yes, they cost money and I understand that money is hard to find in this day and age. But I also see you at Starbucks three days a week. Grown-up life is all about priorities. So, get in line at Tim Hortons (bring a reusable mug because those cups are not recyclable) and save your pennies so you can buy the books.

    Oh, and read the books. Even the boring ones. And the long ones. And the ones with no pictures. It will build character and help you on the exam.

    But if you really don’t have the money, that is okay too. The university has a building called “Library” and there are literally thousands of books in it. It is generally a huge building. Often times, it is where the Starbucks is on campus. If you go into the library, really nice people work there and can help you find the book for your class. They will also let you sit down in a quiet place and read the book. For free. Yes, for real. Try it.

    Read and follow the instructions. Your professor isn’t trying to pull a fast one on you. They genuinely want you to succeed. The test isn’t a trick. The assignment isn’t a scam. You are too young to be this cynical.

    You aren’t going to read the syllabus. I have pretty much given up on that. But look at that one section that explains the due dates for all assignment and tests. Put all those dates into your phone and computer calendar. Or download an organizational app that can help you with that.

    Bring a sweater. I think that is self-explanatory.

    Ask questions. That is the whole point. You’re not in college to get a job. Okay, that isn’t the only reason you are in college. You also have the opportunity to learn stuff. I was a political science major (don’t roll your eyes, it is super interesting) in undergrad at the University of Calgary. I took an astronomy class where I was able to see the Milky Way through a 1.8m A.R. Cross Telescope on a cold night. I got to ask some of the most important minds in the world about variable stars. It blew my mind. I didn’t become an astronomer, but the class made me a more well-rounded scholar and introduced me to new ideas and friends. Don’t just study what you already know – and never be afraid to ask questions about the things you don’t know.

    Good luck out there.

    (You can turn your phone back on. Just hold down the button on the right and it will come back on, I promise.)


    Andrea Olive is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and the author of The Canadian Environment in Political Context.

  • The Enduring Allure of the Mafia

    With the new edition hot off the presses, Mafia Movies editor Dana Renga talks visual texts, representations of the mafia in the US compared to Italy, and how these evolve as the organizations grow stronger.


    By guest blogger Dana Renga

    Every Spring semester at Ohio State I teach a general education course called Mafia Movies that regularly enrolls between 200-250 students from a variety of majors across the university (the majority from Business and Engineering). We watch many films and television series, from mob classics such as The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, The Sopranos, and Gomorra. The Series, to lesser-known films like the anti-mafia biopic Placido Rizzotto and the melodrama Angela. The toughest film to teach in the course is Luchino Visconti’s 1963 masterpiece The Leopard – it is very long, students find it slow and dense, and, most importantly, “mafia” is only mentioned once in the film, and, at first glance, mobsters are absent. Why then include such a film in a course on the mafia? (I’ve received this question from students countless times!) In a nutshell, Italy’s equivalent of Gone with the Wind conveys a crucial message about Cosa Nostra (the mafia of Sicily): it is a relatively new phenomenon, born at the same time as the Italian state roughly 150 years ago (i.e. the mafia, and Italy, are only about as old as The Ohio State University, which was founded in 1870!).

    The mafia’s inception, evolution, and expansion into the United States are long, complicated, enthralling stories that are treated in several of the chapters of Mafia Movies: A Reader, Second Edition. What originally fascinated me about the mafia, and compelled me to put together the first edition of the reader about ten years ago, is how the mafia is represented differently in the US and in Italy, and how visual texts – films, documentaries, television series – contribute to how various mafias are understood by viewers. And today I am even more intrigued by how various mafias that originated in Italy and expanded to the US are depicted on big and small screens, and are received by viewers globally. Take, for example, two recent Italian television series with broad international appeal: Sky’s Gomorra. The Series (available on Netflix and The Sundance Channel), and Netflix’s Suburra. The Series. Now in its fourth season, show rights for Gomorra have been purchased in 190 countries – I just checked, and there are 206 sovereign states in the world, so these are pretty good odds. And Suburra is Italy’s first made-for-Netflix series that engages viewers in markets across the globe (Netflix content is available in over 190 countries).

    Ciro Di Marzio (Marco D’Amore) as a new breed of redeemed (and attractive) gangster in Gomorra. The Series

    Gomorra and Suburra focus on factual Italian mafias that appear regularly in the international media spotlight: the former narrativizes the exploits of the Camorra, the mafia of the Campania region, while the later is centered on Mafia Capitale, the organized crime network based in Rome, the nation’s capital. With few exceptions (think Henry Hill in Goodfellas), the vast majority of Hollywood representations of organized crime are purely fictional (there is no real-life Tony Soprano or Don Vito Corleone). This is not the case in Italy, where, especially in more recent productions, narrative is inspired by real life events, actual organized crime syndicates, and historical figures. This is incredibly fascinating as, more recently in Italy, onscreen mobsters are depicted in incredibly sentimental and sympathetic terms, similar to many antiheroes gracing American television screens as of late (in addition to Tony Soprano, Walter White, Dexter Morgan, Nucky Thompson, or Hannibal Lector come to mind). Also, and differently from these and other American perpetrators, in Italy, bad guys are also played by conventionally beautiful actors. So, in Italy we have good-looking perpetrators committing factually based criminal acts. Such a recipe causes many debates in Italy regarding the so-called glamorization of organized crime, and these polemics are heightened around series with a focus on good-looking, sympathetic perpetrators.

    As discussed in Mafia Movies, the Italian mafia is a global phenomenon that has penetrated legal and illegal business and grows stronger by the day. At the same time, filmic and televisual representations of the mafia with a focus on redeemed and redeemable villains are increasingly common, and attract viewers throughout the world. What does this all mean? For one, Italy’s mafias are culturally specific and global. Also, mafia films and television series attract viewers in and outside of Italy in their focus on organized crime, a topic with selling power. Most Italian films and television series focusing on the mafia made before the early 2000s focused on those fallen in the battle against the mafia, or depicted mafiosi in highly ambiguous terms. Now, however, Italian gangsters approximate glamorized Hollywood depictions of criminality, such as in both Scarface versions, The Godfather saga, and Goodfellas. To return to The Leopard, in the words of Tancredi Falconeri (played by the stunning Alain Delon), “If we want things to stay as they are, everything must change.” In sum, the mafias, and depictions thereof, continuously evolve as the various organizations grow stronger. An enduring phenomenon indeed, made clear in this set of mafia-related arrests on July 17, 2019.

    Learn more in this free excerpt from the book! Mafia Movies: A Reader, Second Edition is now available.


    Dana Renga is an associate professor of Italian at The Ohio State University. She is the author of Unfinished Business: Screening the Italian Mafia in the New Millennium (2013), Watching Sympathetic Perpetrators on Italian Television: Gomorrah and Beyond (2019), and Mafia Movies: A Reader (2019). She has published extensively on Italian cinema and television.

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