Subway Project

In this project you will be exploring how structural inequality (intersections of race, class, gender, ethnicity etc.) is organized and (re)produced in the city, by using the New York city subway system to map the city. Each group will have 5 students and I will assign a subway line (2, 3, 4, 5, Q, B, D, F, A, L, J, N). Students will be riding it from where the line begins to where the line ends. The lines should be divided by Borough, so that all the boroughs that the train services will be covered. Each group is expected to pick 6 stops along the train line, 2 in each borough, covering at least 3 boroughs. We want to capture variation, so students are required to pick stops that are in very different parts of each borough.

Each member of the group will be responsible for visiting 1 stop along the line, which they will go to at least 2 times during the semester at different times and days. All group members need to go to the 6th stop on the line at least once, either individually or in pairs. The entire group either in pairs or individually will also ride the entire subway line in any direction ensuring that the line is covered at least two different times and days.

The assignment involves observation on multiple levels, so be prepared to take notes as well as pictures:

  1. While you are on the subway, you will observe who gets on and off at each stop. How does this change over the course of your ride? Do you see any patterns?
    • What is the racial/ethnic, class, gender/sexuality and other statuses of passengers? How did you figure these out?
    • What kind of activities are people doing or not doing on the subway? Why do you think they are doing this?
    • What kind of conversations are people having? [please DO NOT eavesdrop; but pay attention] What kinds of things are people carrying?
    • Do people seem to know what they are doing? Can you assess whether they are locals, visitors, regular subway riders etc?
    • How are people dressed? Do you notice changes in this over the ride?
    • How are people occupying space? Does this vary by race, class, gender etc.?
    • How are people treating each other on the subway?
    • What is being advertised in the subway cars you are riding?
    • The quality of the subway cars itself: can the announcements be heard? What does it smell, sound like?
  2. Also observe the subway station when you embark and disembark from the train. You need to spend 5-10 minutes in the subway station making these observations:
    • What is the ambience, services provided, cleanliness, are there escalators or elevators, and lighting of the station? Does this change over the subway line?
    • Is there a police presence in the station? Are there homeless people, vendors? Does this change over the subway line?
    • Who is getting on and off at the station? Observe the people and their interactions? Does this change over the subway line?
  3. When you exit the station what kind of neighborhood are you in? Walk around for 15 minutes making the following observations:
    • Observe the racial, ethnic, class composition of the neighborhood,
    • What is the housing stock? (ex: single family homes, apartments, low cost housing, high rent housing) – is there a change in this as you walk different streets? Why?
    • Describe the presence of restaurants, grocery stores, take out places, and what those tell you about the neighborhood?
    • What public services and amenities exist in the neighborhood (parks, bus stops, police stations, etc)? What is their condition? Are they used? By whom?
    • Who is on the streets? Are the streets crowded or empty, noisy/quiet? What are conversations about?
    • Identify, observe and describe what is going on in 2 social institutions we have discussed in class (Schools, Families, Media, Work etc) in these neighborhoods. Bring a race, class, gender analysis to this.

Every group must finish their observations by the end of week 8.

Take pictures representing your observations for the visual component of the project. You will need to gather information about zip codes so make sure you write down an address near the subway stop so that you can then search for the zip code of the neighborhood that you are in.

Each group member will be required to connect the zip code information of the neighborhood visited to the census data about that neighborhood. There are two websites that you can use to gather this demographic information. (American Factfinder)

The type of demographic information you record should be as closely aligned with your observations as possible, and must include, race/ethnicity, income, and gender.

The final project is divided into two components. First, a 10 page visual/analytical group report. Second, is a group presentation at the end of the semester.

For the report, groups must do the following:

  1. Meet as a group to discuss their observations, photos, and census data and decide the sociological story (analysis) they want to tell about the racial, class, and gender dynamics on their subway line. Story line here refers to an answer to the question: How is structural inequality (race, class, gender etc.) organized and (re)produced in the city?
  2. The next step involves developing a detailed written narrative of that story that draws on data (ie. Observations, photographs and census information) and analyzes the same sociologically (applying theoretical ideas and concepts learned in class).
    • When developing the analysis, think of the subways in the following ways:
      1. Over the subway line and the neighborhoods it serves, who is included and excluded and why? What does inclusion/exclusion mean? How does inclusion/exclusion work
      2. Why does the subway start/end in particular neighborhoods? What does that tell us about access and use to public transportation, residency and services in the city?
      3. What does the subway line and the neighborhoods it serves tell us about how inequality operates in the city? Is the inequality stark, visible, invisible, muted? Does it affect people’s livelihoods, public lives, experiences in their neighborhoods, interactions etc.?
      4. What is the role of public transportation in society?
      5. How does the subway line reflect how neighborhoods are populated (race, class, gender, age etc.) and experiences in neighborhoods (work, public space, families, etc.)
    • This narrative should include 4 main sections. An introduction, brief write up of methods, data/analysis, and conclusion. The narrative should be 10 double-spaced pages. More details will be provided over the course of the semester.
  3. The final part of the written project will be to decide which photographs best represent and support the data and analysis you have presented in the report and place them strategically throughout the paper (as evidence for your analytical points) and online in our google map.

For the presentation:

  1. Each group will be required to produce a 10 minute power point presentation on their research report in the final weeks of the semester.
  2. While it is not possible to cover the entire report in a 10 minute presentation, we want you to give us the highlights of what you found on your subway line and present photographs.
  3. All group members must participate in the presentation.