Thursday, January 8, 2009

Kathleen M. Blee

Kathleen M. Blee is Distinguished Professor & Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Her books include Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement and Women of The Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s.

Late in '08 I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Kwame Anthony Appiah’s terrific book, Experiments in Ethics (2008, Harvard University Press) which explores when people behave in accord with their sense of morality and when they do not. What I found particularly valuable is his distinction between an honest person and a person that behaves honestly across a range of circumstances. Too often, we focus on the former, with static dichotomies of those who are virtuous and those who are not. If we think instead about the circumstances in which someone behaves virtuously, however, we can see that honesty is attached to specific actions in particular contexts. Depending on the context, honesty can be either stimulated or repressed as shown, for example, in a study that found people more likely to aid another person if they have just discovered a coin in a pay phone coin return. If moral behavior can be generated from such small changes in context, it is possible that even slight steps toward a more just and equitable society would increase acts of kindness and morality among its citizens.
Learn more about Kathleen Blee's teaching and research at her faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue