Rhodes College
Mellon Innovation Fellowship Program

Mending Memphis: The Social Construction of Local Problems and Solutions

Evelyn Perry
Assistant Professor of Sociology
2016-2017 Fellow

Mending Memphis: The Social Construction of Local Problems and Solutions project seeks to address social issues through pedagogy in the pursuit of an increased awareness of obstacles that affect Memphis with the hope that such action will catalyze resolution through dialogue, increased knowledge, and groundwork.

This project focused on designing a new course that integrates classroom and community learning to investigate how community-based organizations understand and justify their approach to addressing social problems. In this course, students will conduct organizational ethnographies to examine how local nonprofits construct social problems and solutions, documenting and analyzing the set of stories staff members tell about what the organization does, how they understand and address a particular problem or set of problems, why their work is good, and how their efforts compare to those of other organizations.

The fellowship allowed Professor Perry to tackle a series of design challenges, including:

  •   how to craft open, honest, and mutually-beneficial relationships with partnering organizations
  •   how to create a learning experience that is meaningful and useful for students
  •   how to coordinate a research team to conduct an organizational ethnography
  •   how to employ digital technologies to facilitate collaborative data collection and analysis processes

Professor Perry consulted with civic leaders and philanthropic strategists about course design and the nonprofit landscape in Memphis. Student fellows helped assemble resources useful for working through these challenges, anticipating ethical issues, and crafting syllabi.

The course Professor Perry has designed is fundamentally integrative and will incorporate several high-impact pedagogical practices. The design is collaborative (students will contribute to a communal product), experiential (students will be immersed in community organizational contexts), and problem-based (students will tackle a significant and complex set of real-world issues).

Evelyn Perry
Assistant Professor of Sociology

Dr. Perry studies urban processes and aims to produce actionable knowledge and develop practical strategies to address social problems.