Sociology Alum Uses Real Life as a Drawing Board

by Rashad Mulla

Sociology Alum Uses Real Life as a Drawing Board

The George Mason University Field House is an on-campus social hub where friends can get together and enjoy organized or quick pickup games of basketball. For John Robinson, MA sociology ’10, it was also a classroom and research facility.

For his master’s thesis, Robinson decided to research and write about the pickup basketball community on campus, a fitting research topic considering Robinson plays basketball regularly and is also interested in studying social interaction in real-life scenarios. Diverse groups of people play basketball at the Field House, Robinson said, and race, culture, identity, power and inequality all played roles in determining how players interacted with one another. As a sociology graduate student, Robinson explored all of these factors in his research.

“In looking at the pickup basketball community at the Field House, I was basically looking to see how social inequality is reproduced in everyday life,” he said. “For instance, the [four-court] space actually structures how people meet each other, make friends and become part of a community.”

Rutledge Dennis, faculty member in the department of sociology and anthropology, said the research is unique, groundbreaking and a testament to Robinson’s skill and interests.

“The thesis, which included citations of conversations on and off court, as well as theoretical explanations of pickup basketball as social network, ritual, and modern play, is well-written and has meaningful sociological and philosophical insights,” Dennis said. “It will add immensely to our knowledge of the sociology and psychology of sports.”

While Robinson plays basketball regularly, his research interests focus on interaction and a variety of social issues, not sports. This fall, he enrolled at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., to begin work on a PhD in sociology, attempting to shift his research interests to the interaction between the urban and suburban spheres in the Chicago area.

In addition to being in the master’s in sociology program at Mason, Robinson led several on-campus research ventures and was an undergraduate advisor for global affairs. He was a research assistant in Mason’s Multicultural Research and Resource Center, in which he conducted research to help implement an exchange program between Mason and the University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa. He also managed a group of undergraduate researchers for an on-campus project exploring diversity.

While his new classroom and location are different, his interests remain the same.

“There is a very unequal relationship that exists economically, politically and socially between the inner city and suburbs,” Robinson said. “I’m interested in exploring that.”

The faculty members who instructed him at George Mason University feel confident he will be able to conduct his research very successfully.

“John is a shining example of excellence,” said Amy Best, faculty member in the sociology and anthropology department and director of the sociology graduate program. “I have often thought that John has the perfect combination of smarts, creative insight, groundedness, empathy, modesty and reflexivity that make for real and lasting success in life.”

Photo courtesy of the Gazette.