The University of British Columbia awarded me a Killam Teaching Prize in 2014. This is the highest award for teaching excellence. The adjudication committee selects 6 faculty members from across 16 departments in the humanities, social sciences, and performing arts. The Dean of Arts read the following statement at commencement:
“Students praise Professor Ghaziani’s ‘contagious intellect’ and his exceptional abilities to teach difficult required courses with dynamism and clarity. Professor Ghaziani’s use of real-life applications of sociological concepts is characterized by students as ‘enriching’ and ‘refreshing.’ His colleagues in Sociology attest to his ‘stellar contributions’ to curriculum design and development. A demanding yet inspirational presence in the classroom, Professor Ghaziani is described by one student as a ‘superhero’ who should ‘wear a cape to class.’ Says another, ‘He makes every student who comes in to speak with him feel as though he or she is the only student in the class.'”
One year later (2015), the undergraduate Sociology Students’ Association of UBC awarded me the Most Engaging Professor of the Year.
A year after that (2016), the Dean of the Faculty of Arts awarded me the distinction of being a Top Instructor on campus (2015 calendar year). This prize goes to instructors who are ranked by their students in the top 10% of all professors in the Faculty of Arts. In his letter to me, the Dean wrote the following:
“As a leading global university, UBC aspires to be great in its three major areas of strength: research, teaching, and impact (community engagement, translation and mobilization of research, policy, etc.). Our greatest impact, however, will always be in the education of generations of students who will contribute immeasurably to the betterment of the world, and you have shown yourself capable of contributing to student instruction at the highest level. I want to thank you for your thoughtful and successful contributions to teaching at UBC.”
I build my courses on 4 pillars that I believe promote excellence in the classroom: portability, discovery, interaction, and fellowship. The inspiration for this approach comes from my study of politics. If “our democracy presupposes the deliberative process as a condition of thought and of responsible choice by the electorate,” as Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter suggested, then I see the classroom as an antecedent for participatory citizenship.
First, I stress the portability of knowledge. My students and I apply abstract theoretical concepts to contemporary, “real world” concerns and policy problems. Not only does this help them to appreciate why they are reading articles or books that they think were written a long time ago (what we might call “classics”), but it also concretizes theoretically obscure ideas. For example, how can we use the notion of “heteronormativity” to rethink childrearing practices among mothers who have children between the ages of 3-6? Or how can we apply Gayle Rubin’s “radical theory of sex” (which has six dimensions that outline erotic injustice) to analyze song lyrics such as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines?” These are big, bold questions—exactly what students need to discover a lifelong love for learning. What is the point of a university education, after all, if the concepts that we teach in the classroom remain behind to collect dust after our students leave?
Second, I create opportunities for discovery-based learning. I have designed several small group activities that enable my students to stumble upon key insights on their own. This procedure facilitates ownership of knowledge. It also rejects the premise that the professor is the sole source of authority, the one and only person who transmits “knowledge” to students who sit silently and take notes. This is not how we learn, especially in a digital age, and it certainly does not ignite the sparks of imagination and inspiration.
Third, I promote interactive engagement. It is hard to feel a sense of personal connection with something immaterial like an idea in the absence of participation. Yet general questions like “what did you think of the readings?” fall flat. Simulated debates and stylized scenarios serve as a metaphorical resin onto which students can attach their more specific thoughts. And those thoughts, in turn, are easier to explore and thus engage.
Finally, I invite my students to imagine one another and their relationship with me through the lens of fellowship. The conventional view is to see students in a position of disempowerment vis-à-vis the professor. I, however, see my role as a Socratic facilitator and resource for my students, and I provide ample opportunities for them to act collaboratively in their own interests.
I have designed and taught the following courses in line with my teaching philosophy:
Culture, Power, and Inequality
This course focuses on the relationship between three core sociological concepts: culture, power, and inequality. Culture denotes the expressive traditions, creations, and ways of life of a group of people: their tastes in music, art, dance, speech, and so on. Power is the capacity to exert influence upon another, particularly in the face of resistance. Inequality emphasizes how people fit into socioeconomic hierarchies. This course explores the ways in which these concepts are related, often in unexpected ways. We will investigate the role culture, power, and inequality play in the formation of class boundaries, same-sex marriage debates, undergraduate admissions at elite universities, musical tastes, fashion, the economic development of cities, and gay neighborhoods.
Introduction to Sociology
This is a basic course in sociology for majors and non-majors. The goal is to acquaint students with core concepts in the discipline that you can apply to better understand the world in which you live. The course will teach you how to extend sociological ideas (such as socialization, culture, class, organizations, inequality, bureaucracy, social movements, race/ethnicity, sex/gender, etc.) to contemporary issues in American society (such as the role of the family, immigration debates, education, politics, etc.).
Qualitative Data Analysis and Professional Writing
This is a graduate-level, qualitative data analysis and professional writing seminar designed for students who have completed Sociology 503 (Qualitative Research Design and Techniques) or its equivalent. Sociology 503 covers general principles of design, whereas Sociology 515 focuses on specific techniques of data analysis, especially for interview and documentary data, along with how to prepare a publishable article that uses such data. While we will read quite a bit throughout the course, we will focus on the analysis of your own data and how to think through the practical problems that you encounter. Thus, we will concern ourselves with skill and practice development, rather than debates about analysis, and we will emphasize learning by doing: you will spend a considerable amount of time reading, as you would in any graduate course, but you also will analyze data, write up the results, simulate peer review, and simulate a conference presentation.
Sociology 515 has 6 objectives: (1) You will do analysis in virtually every week; (2) you will learn basic techniques for collecting, interpreting, and analyzing qualitative data; (3) you will receive basic training in the computer-assisted analysis of qualitative data using Atlas.ti; (4) you will also learn how to manually code such data; (5) you will learn how to identify patterns in your data; and (6) you will think carefully about professional writing (how to produce an academic journal article) and presentations (how to craft a conference presentation).
Queer Theory and Politics
We are obsessed with lumping and splitting the world into binary categories: right/wrong, knowledge/ignorance, true/false, public/private, majority/minority, guilty/innocent, natural/artificial, new/old, unity/division, healthy/sick, domestic/foreign, passive/active, in/out, and night/day. In this mix are also highly charged categories pertaining to sex, gender, and sexuality: male/female, masculine/feminine, gay/straight. We assume these categories are “transhistorical” (i.e., they have always been around and have always meant the same thing) and exhaustive (i.e., they capture the full range of socio-sexual variation).
But what if I told you that being male or female is only an interactional accomplishment, or a simple stylization of bodily acts—and that there are third genders? What does it mean that the “homosexual” as a “species” was “born” in 1870? Or that the word “heterosexual” was first publicly used in 1880? What words did people use in 1869 or 1879? Queer theory argues that all identity labels are historically constructed (often in the service of power and control) and thus malleable, unstable, and fluid. In their quest to “denaturalize” and “disrupt” a category-driven world, theorists imagine three alternative realities: a world in which we eliminate all categories, a world in which we expand categories beyond simple binaries (e.g., Kinsey’s sexuality scale), or a world in which we reconceptualize categories (e.g., imagining masculinity independently of the male body).
The goal of this course is (i) to use interdisciplinary perspectives to challenge assumptions about the study of sex, gender, and sexuality; and (ii) to critically consider if queer theory’s vision for the world is politically tenable.
This course provides an introduction to the logic and methods of social research. You may initially feel that this training is wasted on you because you do not imagine a career in social research, you do not plan to pursue an advanced degree in the social and behavioral sciences, or for some other reason. Today, however, understanding social research is an important part of being a member of the educated public. When someone reports that there is a shortage of jobs for people graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology or that there is a shortage of men in mating markets for women in their 30s or that toxic waste sites tend to be located in poor and minority neighborhoods, you need to be able to evaluate the veracity of such claims. They may be flat-out false or based on evidence that is distorted, partial, manipulated, or unreliable—or the researcher may have used the wrong analytic technique given his/her goals and questions. This course is about connecting “ideas and evidence,” known to social scientists as connecting “theory and data.” We will cover all aspects of the research process, from framing researchable questions to the qualitative and statistical analysis of data. This overview is necessarily broad and general; we will not spend a lot of time on specific analytic techniques. We will be more concerned with understanding and choosing among general research strategies and the consequences of adopting one approach versus another.
This course introduces students to research on social inequality and stratification, a central subfield in sociology. The course is structured in 3 parts: (1) major concepts, issues, and theories; (2) considerations of class, race, gender, and sexual orientation; and (3) special topics, which will include the Chicago Heat Wave disaster, how inequality interfaces with cultural consumption (especially our musical likes and dislikes), and how inequality interfaces with politics (especially with respect to the so-called “Digital Divide” and terrorism). Readings will include theoretical and empirical writings.
This course exposes students to the study of “social movements,” or organized efforts to create or resist societal change. It introduces major concepts in the sociological study of social movements, such as collective behavior, resource mobilization, political process, collective identity, horizontal hostility, abeyance structures, micro-cohorts, the queer dilemma, free spaces, frames/frame alignment/frame disputes, transnational activism, and Internet activism. We will use these concepts to explain the emergence, maintenance, change, and decline of numerous movements, including the global diffusion of Occupy Wall Street; Aboriginal rights; nuclear disarmament and peace movements; Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist movements; Hare Krishna movements; labor organizing; urban neighborhood movements; the Black student sit-in movement in the U.S. South; same-sex marriage battles; lesbian feminism; ACT UP; various women’s movements, including prodemocracy organizing in Pinochet’s Chile, suffrage battles in the U.S.; and the role of the veil in the 1950s Algerian anti-colonial revolution; and U.S. White Power, Black civil rights, and LGBT rights movements, among others.
Sociology of Culture
The sociology of culture is among the quickest growing and most difficult to define subfields of sociology. There are ongoing debates about what culture is and how it should be studied. The aim of this course is to provide a broad introduction to the field, exposing students to central perspectives related to the definitions, manifestations, consequences, and analysis of culture. In readings and discussions, we will explore the production, consumption, and reception of culture in art, media, and music along with cultural dimensions of society as a whole and of class/status, collective action, organizations, media, and politics in particular. The course will conclude with considerations of how to analyze these different dimensions of culture.
Sociology of Sexualities
This course explores the social organization of sexuality, including its history, economics, power, discourses, relations, identities, and practices. Our objective is to learn analytic tools to problematize and pluralize sexuality as a complex human expression. Thus, rather than seeing sexuality as an unchanging biological force or as universally natural, we will examine it as a site of conflict and contest that is variably constructed across time and space. Our approach will be interdisciplinary; we will draw from sociology, gender studies, queer theory, psychology, history, anthropology, philosophy, and cultural studies. We will cover the following themes: the history of sexuality; sexuality and power; queer theory; the depolarization of sex, gender, and sexuality; categorization and classification as a social phenomenon; “dude sex”; the construction of heterosexuality; straight girls kissing each other and straight men kissing each other; weddings; sexual fluidity in women; the economics and commerce of sexuality; sexuality and schooling; sexual identities and labels; the “post-gay” phenomenon; drag queens and drag kings; heteronormativity and homonormativity; and sexuality and urban nightlife.
Unity and Division in Political Life
Why does Obama feel compelled to emphasize that he is multiracial—and not African American? Why did Harry Belafonte accuse former Secretary of State Colin Powell of only serving his “master” (read: President George W. Bush) and therefore “selling out” the black community? If a man sleeps with another man, is he necessarily gay? Does it even matter if you are “straight” or “gay?” Answers to such questions sometimes unite and other times divide people who presumably belong to the same group. In this freshman seminar, we will compare the civil rights and lesbian/gay movements to critically appraise how community boundaries are politically and culturally negotiated amid a flurry of infighting. Our broader intellectual objective is to consider the interplay between unity and division in American political life. For example, immediately after the September 11 attacks, Senator John Kerry said to Congress, “There are no Republicans. There are no Democrats. There are only Americans.” Four years later, America was a dramatically divided country along “blue” and “red” states. Can we be united through or despite our diversity? Should unity even be our goal?