One of my favorite quotes to describe sociology states “the fascination of sociology lies in the fact that its perspective makes us see in a new light the very world in which we have lived all our lives” (Peter Berger). Every time I read this I immediately recall the movie The Matrix in which the main character, Neo, is offered a choice to take the Blue Pill and go back to life as he has always known it or to take the Red Pill and to finally see society as it really is. Of course, our courageous hero chooses the Red Pill, which means that he begins to see the world around him as a powerful matrix of social constructions that affect every aspect of his life. In many ways this movie offers a description of what I love about sociology. As a discipline, sociology sheds light on how we are socialized to believe that the things around us are “natural” and that our roles, behaviors, and attitudes are common sense. Taking a sociological perspective allows us to question these assertions and to see how observable social patterns are maintained by structural arrangements (such as policies and laws) and cultural norms that inform who we are and how we interact with others. In fact, there is nothing “natural” about the forces that structure our lives, define our social groups, and provide opportunities for our success or restrain our potential.
This sociological insight motivated my own research, in which I study patterns of social inequality, visible (structural) and invisible (cultural) boundaries that keep people apart, and when and how individuals and groups can cross these boundaries. One way that I explore these questions is by examining how consumer goods and knowledge about particular consumer goods confer status to consumers, reinforce boundaries across groups, and potentially lead to upward mobility. For instance, I conducted field research in tasting rooms in Napa Valley wineries, where the interactions between tasting room hosts (who communicate critic-generated information about value and status) and consumers from different class backgrounds create distinctive and hierarchically ordered consumer cultures. In other projects, I have shifted focus away from elite consumers to the other end of the class system in order to understand the structural and cultural barriers to upward mobility among some of the poorest Memphis residents. This research involves a five-year evaluation project for the Memphis City Housing Authority and its efforts to revitalize downtown under the federal HOPE VI program. As the Project Director, I work with a team of Rhodes students and community members to collect data and to evaluate the effectiveness of social service agencies in assisting residents of distressed public housing secure alternative housing and gain economic and social mobility.
Whether my focus is on elite wine consumers or impoverished public housing residents, I am interested in how economic capital (money), social capital (who you know) and cultural capital (what you know and how you act) combine to maintain patterns of social inequality. And, while much of my research examines social class in the United States, I am also interested in how other systems such as race and gender intersect with class to structure social life. Therefore, my courses focus on these aspects of inequality, boundaries, and social change as well.
My hope is that students leave my classes with a better understanding that our lives are situated within a cultural and structural context that is not neutral or inconsequential. Instead of blindly living within “The Matrix,” students will meet the challenge offered by the Red Pill and begin to see the social constructions that structure their lives (and the potential negative consequences of these arrangements) and to become empowered to make positive changes in the world in which we live.
In addition to research and teaching at Rhodes, I am a certified mediator and work with organizations and communities to resolve internal or external disputes or conflicts related to organizational change, cultural differences, or the allocation of resources within communities. Some of this work involves mediating and facilitating dialogues about long-standing issues of systemic racism and other forms of inequality or discrimination. I also serve on the board of directors for Turning Point Partners, which offers mediation and restorative justice alternatives to incarceration in Memphis.
M.T.S Sociology of Religion and Social Ethics, Candler School of Theology Emory University (2001)
Certificate in Mediation, National Conflict Resolution Center (2009)
PhD Sociology and Certificate in Women’s Studies, Emory University (2010)
Urban Social Problems (ANSO 241)
Gender and Society (231)
Explorations in Sociological Theory (ANS0 380)
Cultural Motifs: Community Organizations (ANSO 365)
Field Projects in Community Organizations (US 469)
Jamerson, Heather. 2009. “Intoxicators, Educators, and Gatekeepers: Service Workers and the Enactment of Expert Ratings in Napa Wineries.” Poetics.
Keebaugh, Alaine, Lyndsey Darrow, David Tan and Heather Jamerson. 2009. “Discovering the Connections: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Teaching Undergraduate Research Methods.” International Journal for Teaching Learning in Higher Education
Glynn, Mary Ann and Heather Jamerson. 2006. “Principled Leadership: A Framework for Action,” in Leading with Values: Values, Virtue, and High Performance, edited by Ed Hess and Kim Cameron, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.