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The Practical Side of Philosophy

November 18, 2016

Maddy Gluek from philosophy headshot

Maddy Gluek from philosophy headshot
Photo: Matthew Weber, CLAgency

As a freshman, Maddy Glueck enrolled in both a sociology course on the politics of consumption and a philosophy freshman seminar on ethics, taught by department professor Valerie Tiberius. The combination of these classes had her hooked; today, a junior, she is double-majoring in philosophy and sociology. In her studies, she focuses on social theory, ethics, and political philosophy.

Interested, as she puts it, "in the more theoretical side of sociology and the more practical side of philosophy," she finds her majors to be complementary. Philosophy, she says, is "a really good exercise in picking up on themes that aren't explicitly there, figuring out what's going on conceptually behind people's words, and having a critical eye towards what people are saying, which is good for life in general." In particular, Glueck says that applying these philosophical skills to her sociology coursework proves illuminating. "Studying philosophy has given me a much better understanding of social theory," she explains.

This past summer, Glueck had the opportunity to apply the skills she has developed in her coursework as a research assistant for the New York University (NYU) High School Admissions Choice Study. The study, conducted by the NYU sociology department, seeks to evaluate New York City's high school choice system, wherein 8th graders rank their preferred high schools before being assigned to a school based on their preferences and prior academic performance. A large part of the study has consisted of interviewing students and parents about this high school application process. Glueck's role was to write case studies on these interviews, trying to identify, as a sociologist might, the larger social patterns implicit in the responses of students and parents. Glueck wrote more than 20 case studies over the course of the summer.

Glueck is currently conducting sociological research on the cross country running team, which she has been a part of since freshman year. She's interested in her teammates' attitudes towards running: "Why do they do it?" she asks. Given the sheer amount of time and energy it takes to be a member of the team, Glueck is curious about what motivates the runners—including herself—to keep heading out on the trail day after day. Through her research, she hopes to find out what these reasons are and how they might reflect deeper social issues. Next semester, she intends to take her research to the next level, conducting an independent study connecting virtue ethics to identity-building around hard work. She thinks that the theoretical frameworks of Bourdieu, Foucault, Weber, and Marx, to which she has had much exposure in her sociology courses, will prove useful for this project.

Glueck is not yet sure what she wants to do after she graduates. She is considering going to graduate school, but does not yet know whether she would study sociology or philosophy. Whatever she decides to do, her studies have provided her with a readiness to take on anything, a readiness that is, as she said, "good for life in general."