One of my favorite ways to teach about authority is to draw upon Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments.  As many (if not all) of you know, Milgram designed a series of experiments to see whether people would shock others up to lethal levels when instructed to do so by a scientist.  In most cases and depending on various situational characteristics, the majority of people complied, showing they would shock someone up to lethal levels.  You can read more about the experiments on a Backstage Sociologist post, found here.

A BBC documentary covered an effort to recreate the experiment a few years ago, which found similar results (with a small number of total participants, however).  The entire documentary is on Youtube, but if you’re worried about time, this 6-minute clip shows the actual experiment and includes brief discussions about authority.

I’ve used this clip generally to talk about authority as well as more specifically to illustrate how human rights violations may take place.  This clip is also a great introduction to a discussion about Weber’s types of authority.