1. SUPER EASY ASSIGNMENT FOR ANY COURSE
(written by Lisa Wade)

Spend a few minutes the blog Sociological Images (www.thesocietypages.org/socimages) to get a sense of how they are choosing and analyzing visuals.  Then, in the course of your daily life, look for an ad, photograph, short video, or graph that would be useful to analyze sociologically.  Submit the image to Sociological Images (at socimages@thesocietypages.org) with a suggestion for analysis.  Cc me on the email for pass/no pass credit.

Note to instructors:

This assignment encourages students to continue to think sociologically outside of the classroom.  It has the added excitement of potentially becoming a topic of discussion on the blog.

Grading is quick and easy if you have students cc you on their submission email.  You could even offer extra credit if their submission is posted (we do not post all submissions) and extra extra credit if we quote their analysis in the post.


2. ASSIGNMENT FOR A LOWER-DIVISION COURSE: ANALYSIS OF A SINGLE AD
(written by Gwen Sharp and Lisa Wade)

Throughout this course we have investigated the ways in which sex, gender, race, class, and other social characteristics are used in “lifestyle-based” advertising. Marketers use these categories, and many others, in an effort to link their products with desirable lifestyles, social groups, or social characteristics, such as ideal masculinity or upper-class luxury.

Go to the blog Sociological Images (www.thesocietypages.org/socimages) and select an advertisement that you believe uses sex, race, gender, family roles, nationality, or class (alone or in combination) and discuss how those characteristics are used in the ad.

Questions:

1. At what social group is the ad aimed? What social groups are represented in the ad? (Hint: They are not always the same.)

2. Does the advertisement reinforce or violate cultural norms? If it violates them, what purpose do you think the violation serves? (Hint: Consider humor, appealing to an often-ignored group, appealing to the idea of rebellion?

3. In addition to the product, what else is the ad selling? (Hint: Consider things like love, marriage, sex, individuality, freedom, sophistication, leisure and other desirables.)

Note to instructors:

This assignment encourages students to do the act of analysis themselves. Doing so will help bypass students’ initial resistance to the idea of “reading too much into” ads by asking them to take seriously the fact that an image must be interpreted.


3. ASSIGNMENT FOR A LOWER-DIVISION COURSE: SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGES AS A JUMPING OFF POINT
(written by Lisa Wade)

First, go to the blog Sociological Images (www.thesocietypages.org/socimages) and select an advertisement that you believe uses sex, race, gender, family roles, nationality, or class (alone or in combination).  Consider how those characteristics are used in the ad (the commentary by Sociological Images bloggers may help here).

Second, look for four additional ads in your own environment (in magazines, on tv, on websites, etc) that complement the one you chose at Sociological Images.  Hints: Look for (1) ads that use the same characteristics the same way (e.g., are Black men presented as violent frequently, or was the first ad just a fluke?); (2) ads that use the same characteristics different ways (e.g., when are women presented as sex objects and when are they not?); and (3) ads for the exact same product targeted to a different audience.

Considering all five ads together, what kind of messages about social groups are being sold to us alongside products?

Note to instructors:

This assignment is useful because it allows students to explore their own social world, instead of simply being told about it.  Students who are suspicious about sociological observations on advertising may find this especially useful.  First, they are required to grapple directly with the advertising to which they are exposed.  They may learn more than thought they would.  Second, even if they actively try to prove that sociological observations are false (which is just fine), they still must analyze ads.  In the end, the assignment is to tell some sociological story about the ads.  Often, I imagine, the stories told by students who really look to counter our more simple observations may be the most interesting stories of all.


4. ASSIGNMENT FOR AN UPPER-DIVISION COURSE
(written by Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp)

The images that we consume as members of U.S. culture send complicated and nuanced messages. Using the blog Sociological Images (www.thesocietypages.org/socimages), prepare a presentation that addresses one of the following:

Option One: While race, class, gender, and other axes of inequality are often discussed in isolation from one another, such inequalities interact. Prepare a presentation that illustrates how stereotypes related to race, ethnicity, national citizenship, immigrant status, sexual orientation, class, religion, or some other social category are not static, but interact with each other

Option Two: While many of us primarily consume media aimed at people like us, companies often target various groups very differently. Prepare a presentation that illustrates how a single product (i.e., Absolut vodka, Altoids, Coors, Trojan condoms, or Nike sportswear) is marketed differently to populations according to their gender, race, ethnicity, national citizenship, immigrant status, sexual orientation, class, religion, or some other characteristic.

Option Three: Oppression functions in part by creating a double bind for those in oppressed groups. To be in a double bind is to be disadvantaged no matter which choice you make, to be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Prepare a presentation that illustrates the way in which images in our society serve to create double binds for members of disadvantaged groups.

Note to instructors:

A student who chose Option One might show how stereotypes of masculinity vary across race and class. The student might note that white men are idealized, while black men are often hypersexualized or even dehumanized, and Asian men are portrayed as passive and feminine. Alternatively, a student might choose to look at how portrayals of African Americans changed according to their ascribed class status, such that upper-class blacks appear more “white” (and therefore fit in), whereas poor blacks are made to appear more “black” (and therefore more troublesome or deviant).

A student who chose Option Two might show how Nike sportswear, when advertising in women’s magazines, draws on feminist ideas to suggest that women are just as athletic as men, but when advertising in men’s magazines, reproduces the same notion that men are the true athletes. Or a student might look at how Coors beer produces a hypermasculine and homophobic ad for a men’s magazine, while simultaneously sexualizing the homosocial environment of a gay bar in a magazine aimed at gay men.

A student who chose Option Three might show how images aimed at women suggest that they should be sexy, but women are objectified when they attempt to meet that sexy ideal; that women should be feminine, but are denigrated when they are; should be strong and independent with a good career, but become bitches when they do so; or should be a completely devoted mother, when motherhood becomes the equivalent of “doing nothing.” Another option would be to show the ways in which images appropriate and glamorize stereotypes of urban African Americans, while penalizing black men and women who are believed to embody those stereotypes.

 

5. THE RHETORIC OF POP CULTURE
(An assignment for a lower-division course by Karryn Lintelman.
Reproduced by permission from here).

Purpose:

The purpose of this assignment is to think critically about the powerful and prevalent cultural texts that surround us in our daily lives, by working to better understand what our culture is saying to us through the cultural texts we consume, as well as what our cultural texts say about us as a society. You will accomplish this by writing a 4-6 page paper analyzing the rhetorical appeals inherent in a specific text in relation to the argument(s) the text makes as a whole.
To begin, consider cultural texts such as advertisements (print or video), brochures, websites, blogs, speeches, films, art, and songs, etc. After carefully choosing a particular text, consider it in relation to the rhetorical triangle, and decide on a specific audience you want to address in your analysis. You should also think about the claims your text makes by addressing points like: the ways its topic is shaped and represented through the medium, if and how it uses others (race, gender, groups), what or who it includes and excludes and why, and what the combined effect of such decisions has on the overall impact of its argument. Your analysis will also include two external sources that you find in relation to your text (they may be articles or reviews written about it, articles on the topic of your text that provide other perspectives, etc). We will be reading and conducting rhetorical analyses on various types of cultural texts to prepare you for this assignment throughout the sequence.
When writing your analysis, keep in mind the following questions:*Who created this text and why? What argument does it make?

*What kinds of images are used and why?

*What kinds of text (written or spoken) is used and why?

*Who is the intended audience?

*What is the intended purpose (to educate, alienate, entertain, etc.)?

*How does it use rhetorical appeals?

*How effective is this text in achieving its intended purpose, for its intended audience? *How do you interpret this text as a reader? Does this match with its intended effect?

*How does the layout, mixture of multimodal elements, narrative, use of metaphor, or other stylistic effects work in the text?

*Does the argument of the text include any logical fallacies?

*Is the title important? Why?

Components:

1. Brief description of selected text, short rationale explaining why you chose the text to analyze, and thesis sentence.

2. Two annotated sources (You must include the MLA citation for each source, and a few sentences explaining what each source is and how/why you plan to incorporate each source into your paper).

3. Initial Draft.

4. Revised Draft with Initial Draft and Writer’s Memo attached.

Good places to look for cultural texts:

www.americanrhetoric.com: Database of speech transcripts, often also has the audio or video of the speech being given as well.

www.projects.washingtonpost.com/politicalads/: Fabulous database of political ads that can be searched by year, by politician, by issues, etc.

www.thesocietypages.org/socimages/: Postings of various ads and other images that people think have sociological relevance. Many times a link to the larger ad campaign, or the company whom the ad is for, will be provided, and is probably a good thing to look at. If you chose an image from this site, try to find where it originally showed up, and do not simply copy what others have already said about it.

www.wordpress.com and www.blogsofnote.blogspot.com : Here, as well as at other blogging sites, you can search blogs according to topics or keywords, and find blogs that other people think are interesting.

www.artcyclopedia.com: searchable database of art and artists. To find more specifically argumentative art, you might try to search for political art.

Of course, you can also find cultural texts all around you, in magazines, newspapers, fliers, billboards, posters, music, etc, as well as the websites you use everyday!

*Overall, you will have at least three sources to cite—your cultural text, and at least two additional sources that provide more information about or other perspectives on your chosen text—these need to be cited on a ‘Works Cited’ page at the end of your paper, according to MLA style. Refer to The Everyday Writer for formatting.

6. ADVERTISING AND SOCIETY
(An assignment for a lower-division course by Alicia Revely.
Reproduced by permission from
here.)

We know advertisements are geared toward specific demographics (age/race/gender/income/nationality/culture) but what happens when “outside” groups see these ads? I’ll give you examples of ads that have been considered problematic by people outside their intended audiences.

Choose one ad and analyze why you think people might find it offensive, disrespectful, or inappropriate. Could it be changed to be more sensitive? Does the outrage or worry about the ad’s message make sense to you? What less controversial approach could the company have taken to promote its product? Should the company have been able to foresee the impact the ad would have?

Also think of one commercial or ad campaign in your lifetime that you know caused backlash or that you thought was problematic. Describe what you remember of the ad and the criticisms of it. Was it appropriate for your social context or do you agree with its critics?

This Italian detergent commercial raised concerns about racial stereotyping.

So did this set of promotional photos by Spain’s Olympic basketball team.

When we look at advertisements from the past, we can often see problems that may or may not have been evident at that time. If you’d like to address this issue, you can look at either Marlboro ads targeting mothers in the ’50s or this Folgers ad from about the same time.

7. ESSAY QUESTION ON THE PROBLEM OF INFERENCE
(Written by Mark Stoddart.  Reproduced by permission.)

One of the challenges of textual analysis of media representations is the ‘problem of inference.’ This means that the researcher analyzes the text without engaging with the media producers or audience members. The blog, Sociological Images, provides a sociologically-informed critique of mass media images. After reviewing several posts and their related comments, discuss whether or how the problem of inference is present in this blog. In other words, provide a critical review of the media analysis and comments on Sociological Images, based on your understanding of theory and research on media and society.

 8. ANALYZING GENDER AND DISCOURSES ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT
(Written by Abby Kinchy)

For this question, you will consult an outside source, a blog called Sociological Images, which offers sociological analysis of advertisements and other aspects of visual culture. The authors of Sociological Images have commented frequently on the ways that ideas about masculinity and femininity are a part of historical and contemporary understandings of the environment. Select three of the blog posts listed below (a digital version of this exam is posted in Dropbox, for easy access to the links). Then write an essay that uses the examples in the blog posts (and your own examples, if you wish), in combination with course readings, to answer the following question: In what ways have patriarchal ideas influenced cultural representations of nature, past and present?

 

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.