Category Archives: Assignments

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: 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.

Note: not all stereotypes and ideologies are examples of single stories. Those that are systemically affect the life chances of marginalized people in society and are not abutted by substantial alternative narratives. The stereotype or ideology you select for this paper must also be an example of a single story.

Although the story you choose is up to you, there are specific requirements for your analysis. In using a sociological lens to analyze the story you should engage with both data and social theories. Use your sociological imagination.

  • The Story: Explain the single story you chose. To do this, outline its narrative and logic. What is the story? What social inequality or issue does it attempt to explain?
  • Start the Story Earlier: Analyze where the story originated. Who created the story? What is the function/dysfunction of the story? What happens if you start the story here/earlier? How does the narrative shift?
  • Explore its Impact on Identity, Perceptions of Others, Social Relations, and Social Institutions: How does the story affect people’s sense of self? How does it affect the way people understand each other? How does the story affect contemporary social relations? How does it contribute to the perpetuation of inequality in society? How has it become institutionalized?
  • Listen to Alternative Stories: What is the story told by the subjects of the story? How does the story shift if you listen to these testimonies? What happens to the story if you follow the perspective of those most oppressed by it/and or those able to see through the narrative?
  • Change the Story: How can the story be changed? What can you do in your daily life to contribute to shifting the narrative? What can be done on a broader scale?

Non-Service Learning Version

  • Course Materials: Your paper should incorporate course materials to explore these concepts or ideas. This can include information from class discussion, films shown in class, and class readings. Use at least three sources from the course.
  • Data and Evidence: You need to draw on specific examples in order to show the existence, origins, and impact of these stories. To do this you will need to use at least three outside sources. These sources must be academic in nature. If you cannot find it on Google Scholar or in academic journals, you should run the source by me.
  • Include a reference page at the end of the paper that includes materials cited both from the course and your additional research.

Service Learning Version

  • Course Materials: Your paper should incorporate course materials to explore these concepts or ideas. This can include information from class discussion, films shown in class, and class readings. Try to use at least three sources from class discussion.
  • Data and Evidence: Rather than doing library research, your data will come from your service-learning site. It will involve your ability to think critically about what you see and to open your ears, mind, and heart to alternative possibilities. You will use stories from your experiences in order to answer the questions posed by this project. It may be the case that you have a hard time finding three stories that relate to your site. If this challenge (or any challenge) arises, talk to me.

Learning Outcomes

The primary goal of this activity is to foster critical thinking skills. It enables students to think reflectively about social stories, whether they be stereotypes, ideologies, or hegemonic narratives, and to deconstruct them. Students will develop skills they can use throughout their lives to see through historical forces and constructed discourse: including the essential ability to listen to subaltern voices. Finally, this assignment empowers students to think of constructive ways to challenge “single stories” in their social networks and broader communities.

Note: Thought not a requirement, you may want to consider selecting related stereotypes, ideologies, and hegemonic narratives so that you can also examine how they are related and how power flows between them.

Evaluation Criteria (based on presence and quality of required elements)

  • Paper includes a strong organizing theme (the story) presented in a clear thesis.
  • Thesis/theme is developed and supported throughout the paper.
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses the nature of the story.
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses the origins and intentions/functions of the story.
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses the impact of the story on peoples’ identity, understandings of each other, and broader social relations (including institutions).
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses the alternative stories told by those marginalized and/or those able to see through the fog of hegemony.
  • Paper sincerely and analytically discusses possibilities for change in one’s life, community, and broader society.
  • Paper is well written, reflective, and interesting.
  • Paper includes required citations

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!