Monday, November 7, 2011

Metaphors, Marbles and Monopoly

As I've noted on this blog a few times, I'm a big fan of metaphors that simplify complex concepts, making them accessible to college freshman and sophomores.  I was pleased to see my recent post on the metaphor of a "Braided River" to describe human population history received some attention (though, I definitely didn't develop that metaphor myself--see the comments on the original post for more information on original references).

In that spirit, I recently came across two other sources that I thought clearly expressed complex ideas in an "easy to think" way.

First, Jeremy Trombley recently posted a nice illustration of the concept of agency, using the metaphor of a marble in a bowl.

As I think about the example he uses - a marble dropped into a bowl from one edge - I enjoy it more and more as a metaphor for structure and agency

Agency and structure is one of those sets of concepts that in my own thoughts is a relatively simple and elegant idea.  But for some reason, every time I try to explain it in class, I'm caught in tangled webs of some of the most tortured lecture I can produce. So, I definitely appreciate Trombley's well crafted explanation.

Next, several weeks ago, Feminist Frequency posted a video of Allan G. Johnson discussing white privilege and social structure. In this quick (27 minutes) lecture, Johnson begins with the metaphor of the game of Monopoly to illustrate how certain social structures generate certain kinds of behavior.  In a concise lecture, he quickly provides an deft critique of the idea that individuals behave based on innate, essentialized drives, but instead by following "rules of a game." While the video is longer than a couple minutes, it's definitely worth a look.

Both of these examples have helped me get a better handle on how to communicate with my students and my own understanding of the concepts.

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