Category Archives: Assignments

How to Use #Selfies as Sociological Exercises

Aoki-chainsmokers_v3Linda Catalano is a sociologist at Queens College and Hunter College. Follow her on Twitter at @SocThing.

Selfies, I’ve found, are a terrific way to begin to get across George Herbert Mead’s distinction between the “I” and the “me,” which students can find difficult to grasp and tend to resist. I’ve developed an exercise that incorporates selfies which works fairly well, but I suspect that there are even better ways of using selfies that draw out more of Mead than I’ve been able to do.

I’ve been using a textbook (Edles & Applerouth 2010) with several selections from Mind, Self & Society (Mead 1934) in which Mead outlines his famous concept of the self as incorporating two phases, the “I” and the “me.” I was surprised to discover that my students have considerable trouble with this notion, and given the choice, avoid questions about it on exams.

Why students resist. Students don’t like Mead for many reasons. Aside from the fact that they often have trouble with his long and convoluted prose, students tend to have several conceptual difficulties. First, they have trouble with the way that, for Mead, social reality is all process. Students tend to feel their conceptual ground turn into quicksand, that they have nothing to hang on to. (more…)

Bringing the “Beautiful Game” to the Classroom

Photo by Steve Tulk via flickr CC

Photo by Steve Tulk via flickr CC

The following is a guest post written by Kyle Green and Alex Manning. Kyle and Alex are sociology Ph.D students at the University of Minnesota. Kyle is a member of The Society Pages graduate board and co-host of the Office Hours podcast. His research focuses on culture, sport, gender, and the body. Alex researches race, youth, parenting, and sport.

This World Cup, soccer is on American’s minds at levels never reached before. Fans are filling bars, coffee shops, and even massive stadiums to cheer on the US national team. World Cup fervor has led many in the U.S. media to ask the once every four-year question, “has soccer made it in America?” Large television numbers, a sizeable number of American fans supporting in Brazil (Americans bought 7% percent of world cup tickets, only trailing Brazilians), large participation numbers, and increased youth consumption of the game, have all contributed to public discussion about the game’s popularity and place in the United States.  While there has been much excitement surrounding soccer and the World Cup, some have reacted to the popularity of the tournament with fear, dismissal, and outrage (here and here).

Audience: This activity would work well in a number of courses including Introduction to Sociology, Race, Class, & Gender, Sport & Society, and Sociology of Consumption.

Summary: In this activity the class works together drawing on personal experiences and associations with soccer to think about the social spaces the sport fills and to connect the participation and consumption patterns of the sport to larger social trends. In doing so the students will use their sociological imagination to begin to understand the fervor, both positive and negative, surrounding the World Cup. (more…)

The Danger of a Single Story

This year I taught Introduction to Sociology. In order to discuss the power of discourse in society, I showed by students Chimamanda Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk called “The Danger of a Single Story“. My students were enamored. We had a fascinating and engaging discussion about single stories and the ways in which they affected my students’ lives and their engagement with the world around them. As a result of this phenomenal class, I developed the following assignment that I thought other sociologists would like to adapt to fit their courses.

Assignment Description and Instructions:

Chimamanda Adichie passionately and clearly teaches us the “danger of a single story” in her 2009 TED Talk. (You can find it here: http://www.npr.org/2013/09/20/186303292/what-are-the-dangers-of-a-single-story). Adichie demonstrates the ways in which our society is a collection of social stories or narratives, the most pervasive and controlling of which are/were manufactured by people with social power (the power elite).

Single stories can include stereotypes, ideologies and, what sociologists call, cultural hegemony. Stereotypes are overly simplistic generalizations about a subgroup of peoples. Those that “stick” often are constructed by people with power and used to limit opportunities for the stereotypes’ subjects. Ideologies are sets of ideas that shape how people make sense of the world around them. Depending on the social power of those holding and employing these ideologies, they can have significant impact on social structures and the life chances of others. Cultural hegemony is a system beliefs, norms, and values, shaped by the ruling-class, that justifies the status-quo as natural or normal, and thus makes it invisible. These discourses shape what is knowable and sayable in any given context.

For your papers, you will select a societal single story and analyze it. The first paper will examine a stereotype, the second an ideology, and the third a hegemonic narrative. For each, you will explore the story, its origins, its functions, and its impact on society. You will then examine the alternative stories: those told by the victims of the single story and/or those who are able to see through the discursive fog. Finally, you will propose ways to change the story both in your daily life and on a broader scale. As you move through these projects, also reflect on the ways in which stereotypes, ideologies, and hegemonic narratives are intertwined/not clearly separated. (more…)

Framing and Counter-framing

Dr. Abigail C. Saguy, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at UCLA, recently stopped by Office Hours to talk about her new book What’s Wrong with Fat?  

“The only people who see the whole picture,' he murmured, 'are the ones who step out of the frame.” - Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her FeetThis a a great podcast to assign to your students. It is not only a fascinating topic, but Dr. Saguy does a excellent job of explaining what a “frame” is how sociologists study framing strategies.

This podcast would be an excellent addition to a course or section on gender, medical sociology or the sociology of bodies. But, it would also work very well in a research methods or media course as an introduction to framing and counter-framing.

I suggest using this podcast as an example illustrating how sociologists study framing and then have students conduct a mini-research project of their own and find another social issue with competing frames. Use the questions below to guide your students in understanding how to study framing: 

PART ONE: Listen to the podcast and answer the following questions

  1. Define “framing” in your own words. Why does framing matter?
  2. What does it mean the “denaturalize” a frame?
  3. Using the abortion issue as a example of social movement framing, how do different framing strategies radically change how the issue could be understood by observers?
  4. List and describe all the ways that fatness is framed and counter-framed, according to Dr. Saguy.
  5. Dr. Saguy points out that how our society chooses to understand fatness will determine our responses to it. Choose one frame described by Dr. Saguy and explain what the social consequences of that frame might be.

PART TWO: Apply what you have learned and conduct your own framing analysis

  1. Now, use what you have learned about framing to find another example of a social issue with competing frames.
  2. Describe the social issue and at least two competing frames that you have observed.
  3. What are the goals of each framing strategy? How do those using this frame want you to understand this issue?
  4. For each competing frame, describe the logical response to the social issue that in encouraged by that frame. In other words, what are the  logical responses and potential social consequences of each frame?

 

 

Envisioning Alternatives to Capitalism

Every semester in my Introduction to Sociology courses, I offer students the option of completing the standard course assignments (midterm exam, final exam, memoir paper, reading quizzes) or undertaking a more comprehensive challenge: envisioning an alternative to current economic systems.  This assignment encourages students to challenge hegemonic ideas of the economy to develop a new theory of how to run a functional society.  Here is the assignment in more detail:

Envisioning Alternatives to Capitalism, Socialism and Capitalism

The goal with this assignment is for students to envision an alternative economic system that would benefit all human beings, as well as the planet more broadly.

It is required that students engage with sociology through the process of this activity.  They must set up an awareness of the current economic systems (capitalism, socialism, communism), their weaknesses and strengths, using course material.  In the process of developing an alternative model the other social problems discussed in class (gender inequality, racial inequality, crime, health inequality, educational inequality, food and the environment, etc) must also be considered.  It is expected that course readings be used (and cited) in this project.

The product can take many forms, not limited to the following suggestions: essay, charts, presentation, artwork, video, or a combination thereof.  However, in order to get credit as a replacement for other coursework, it must be of high quality.

It is my vision that there will be some “back and forth” between student and professor over the course of the semester.  Perhaps the student would present ideas in some form, send it for professor feedback, and add more material as the course continues.

To recap, the student must:

1) Engage with course material about the current economic systems of:

-       Capitalism
-       Socialism
-       Communism

2) Present the strengths and weaknesses of the current models, as explained in the class readings.  This would include issues related to:

-       Gender Inequality
-       Racial Inequality
-       Crime and Punishment
-       Health Inequality
-       Educational Inequality
-       Food and the Environment

3) Develop a well thought out alternative that would provide solutions to the aforementioned problems.

The final draft will be due on the final exam date, but students should present different elements of the project over the course of the semester.

This semester I have my first student taking the challenge.  I’ll keep you posted on how the project goes!