FELICIA SONG TO JOIN WESTMONT FACULTY THIS SUMMER
What encouraged you to pursue a degree in sociology? (cont.)
Since email and the Internet were just starting to grow popular in people’s lives, I became quite interested in how media and technology shape our contemporary experiences of identity, relationship and community. After a short detour in a communication studies program, I ended up pursuing my doctorate in sociology because it was the discipline that offered the kind of theoretical foundations for understanding social and cultural change. I was astonished to discover that the classical theorists Marx, Weber and Durkheim were all preoccupied with significant economic and technological transformations as well, and I continue to enjoy learning from and mulling over the theoretical works of sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu, Eva Illouz, and Anthony Giddens who tell compelling and robust stories about why the world looks the way it does.
What has your particular field of study taught you about yourself and our world?
My research lies at the intersection of the sociology of culture and the sociology of technology. As someone interested in the social and cultural effects of social media and digital technology—for example, how our lives and understandings are shaped by how we use our cellphones or how we use Facebook—I am often struck by how much we let technology mold the rhythms of our lives and the relationships we have, and how little power we feel we have to do otherwise. Studying the place of technology in our lives forces me to see how living in a countercultural way—something as simple as not checking email on the weekends—incurs real costs and sacrifice.
How does your faith inform your academic work (or vice versa)?
My faith informs my perspective on what it means to be a human being, what it means to be in relationship with someone, and what it means to be in community. It therefore compels me to examine how well or how poorly our contemporary lives are structured to support such visions of human flourishing.
What has your time at Louisiana State University been like?
Being at LSU has been an extraordinary education in itself. First, being from the Northeast, I have had a lot to learn about teaching at a huge SEC school where football and Mardi Gras reign supreme. People in southern Louisiana really know the meaning of celebration and how to have a Really Good Time. They also really understand what it means to have family roots in a particular location. It has been both a joy and a challenge to live and work in a place that has such a strong cultural identity.
Second, I’ve been teaching as a sociologist in LSU’s school of mass communication that trains students in journalism, advertising, public relations, and political communication. As a result, in many previously unforeseen ways, my time at LSU has afforded me an invaluable second education in the media and persuasion industries. Working with colleagues who teach these areas with an insider’s perspective, I am thankful to have a much better understanding of these industries that so powerfully shape our individual and collective lives.
Do you have a favorite film (and why)?
“The Spanish Prisoner” is one of the few movies that I can enjoy watching over and over again. Between watching Steve Martin play a sinister non-comedic role and marveling over the playwright David Mamet’s stylized dialogue, I love how “The Spanish Prisoner” makes me work to figure out the mystery, and in the end the payoff is so worth it.
What have your students taught you?
During my first year of teaching, one of my students shared that his father had died in a hospital due to a power outage caused by Hurricane Katrina. This student was the first in his family to attend college and had spent some time in jail as a teenager. Working with him that first semester and seeing how he grew during his four years in college taught me that everyone has a story that is worth hearing and understanding, and everyone longs to be met where they are at.
What are some things you're looking forward to by joining the Westmont community?
Having taught at a large state university, I’m really looking forward to working in an environment that functions on a human scale. It will be wonderful to be able to get to know students and colleagues, and also to be known. I am also looking forward to belonging to a scholarly community where I won’t need to bracket off significant parts of my identity. Instead, I will be able to participate within the community as a whole person—as a teacher, a scholar, a parent, a writer, and a person of faith.
To me, sharing a common faith with students and colleagues means having the exciting potential to go beyond merely having sociological discussions that examine and describe how our society and world works, and reaching further into creative and challenging normative conversations about how we as the Church can be a Light in this world and engage the hard problems and puzzles of our times.
What worship practices have been enriching?
Last summer, I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and was challenged to start cultivating a heart of serial gratitude. What I found so compelling about Voskamp’s testimony concerning the spiritual act of giving thanks was that it wasn’t easy, smarmy or sentimental. Rather, her account of “hard eucharisteo”—giving thanks in the face of bad things happening—suggested that cultivating a thankful heart could actually be a radical act of faith that had the potential to move mountains. Working on this discipline of serial gratitude has been a process of refocusing my eyes to see more clearly the taken-for-granted gifts that God places in my path.