Get a taste of some of the ways our research on health, environment and global change feeds into teaching BA Sociology.
Spotlight on animals
Dr Mariam Motamedi-Fraser is interested in both science and social science thinking on animals. She lives with Monk, a black Labrador, and together they lead the year 3 option module Thinking Animals. Monk has been coming to work with Mariam since 2017 (although he only comes if he wants to). There is no obligation for students to engage with Monk in the classroom if they don’t want to. Equally, however, students learn not to expect to be able to touch Monk without his permission. Mariam asks all students to watch a short video on 'petting consent tests' before they come to the class, so that they can recognise what dog permission looks like.
Some students have no experience with dogs or indeed any animal before they join Mariam's Thinking Animals module. For these students, learning how to interact with Monk can be a transformative experience. Even those students who do have some experience with animals, however, may find their relationship with Monk transformed during the course of the module.
The presence of Monk in the classroom brings home many of the lessons that are learned there - for example:
- How the university is premised on the idea of human exceptionalism.
- The complex ethical and political questions that are raised by domestication.
- Animals' agencies, opinions, preferences, and desires.
- The labour of animals.
- The connection between prejudices against animals, and prejudices against other humans.
As one student says in their feedback on the module: "Thank you - and Monk - for such a wonderful course. Your teaching and our seminars will definitely stay with me for life, in a great and insightful way."
Q&A with Professor Marsha Rosengarten
You're well known for your research on global health. How did you get interested in this field as a sociologist?
Global health is a fascinating field, raising numerous issues where sociologists can contribute to questions on how to make the response to infection more relevant to the everyday life of those affected. I first became interested in HIV when I was living in a gay part of Sydney, Australia and witnessed very young men dying of AIDS. This was before the introduction of antiretroviral drugs. I found it hard to accept that medical science couldn’t do better and was also taken in by the misplaced fear and panic it aroused amongst people who were not directly affected by it. The inventive way in which gay men challenged a highly moral culture and insisted on change in how we think about identity, media, art, science, and the law confirmed for me that problems are not fixed. I gained a research position at the University of New South Wales and worked closely with scientists and people affected by HIV as new drugs became available. It was an exciting time. The problem of HIV didn’t go away but it became different and this led to a focus on improving treatment and prevention. My interest shifted to other communicable infections, notably Ebola and the authoritarian approach taken to contain it. In many ways, the approach to containment during the West African Ebola epidemic 2014-2016 was as harmful as the often-fatal consequences of the infection.
What are you working on now?
There are several tangents to my current research and because there are all kinds of ways we can think about infection: infectious bodies, infectious ideas and infectious happenings like a yawn by someone that makes us yawn. Covid-19 is described as a zoonotic infection having ‘jumped’ from another species, and is part of a string of new infections on the horizon due to increased global movement and our destruction of planet. I don’t refute this at all, but communicable infections have been around for as long as we have. Indeed, we are not so apart from viruses as we might have been led to imagine. Some (millions) of viruses were integral to our evolution and our DNA. Viruses also live in our gut and make an important difference to our endurance. There is clearly the need for new thinking, and I’m interested to pursue this.
You've just designed a new option module on the Sociology of Infection. What are you most looking forward to exploring with students?
A: My option Sociology of Infection covers Covid-19, HIV, Ebola and other communicable infections as well as historical events such as the bubonic plague [see pic of doctor!] and how colonisation spread European diseases across the globe. I'm looking forward to exploring how students can gain critical insights on the world of infection - without necessarily going there! - by exploring diverse sources, such as simulated ‘war games’ by key global actors, scholarly articles, and classical novels on the plague plus sensationalist blockbuster films.
What do you like best about teaching at Goldsmiths?
I truly felt like I had landed in the place I had been searching for when I came to Goldsmiths back in 2004. I had heard it was a place of new ideas when I was in Australia and, on this score, it has never disappointed me. I continue to learn from my colleagues but, most of all, through teaching and learning with students. Teaching is the most demanding part of my role and the most rewarding.