Many instructors wonder if they are teaching concepts students can actually apply in their daily lives outside of the classroom. Chris Uggen, a professor at the University of Minnesota, decided to find out through a bonus question on the final exam in his sociology of deviance course. Specifically, he asked students to provide particular examples of how they used class material outside of the course sometime during the semester. And, he received good news–students shared many ways in which they used course material. To view them and view more of his reflections on this simple but powerful idea, see his blog here.
Joel Best’s 2009 Contexts feature “Sociologists as Outliers” takes a look at how sociologists can learn from Malcom Gladwell’s ability to translate research to a wide audience. In the classroom, students can discuss what sociology contributes to the understanding of social behavior and how we can make our contributions known.
1) Pick a success in your life and identify the social factors that played a role in the chain of events that helped you succeed.
2) The hockey league example illustrates that circumstances can change outcomes. Think of another example where structural forces shape individual outcomes and describe it briefly.
ACTIVITY: Find a news article on the web that quotes a sociologist (see our sister blog, Citings & Sightings). Why was a sociologist particularly well-suited to comment on the topic of the article? What did sociology bring to the discussion that another field might not?
In the spring issue, the graduate student editorial board published a report on the bestselling books written by sociologists in the past decade. (The piece, “A Fresh Look at Sociology Bestsellers,” can be found here.) The feature would make a great addition to an introductory course or, even better, a senior “capstone” course for sociology majors. Here are some activities to help bring the article to life in the classroom.
1. Compare and contrast the findings from this study with the results of Herbert Gans’ similar report in a 1997 issue of Contemporary Sociology. What are the key differences in the types of books on each list? What similar trends did the graduate students find when they updated the study?
2. The study is essentially about how the public consumes sociology. Discuss other popular perceptions of sociology and sociologists, such as those found in media or popular culture. How accurate are these portrayals, and how might such portrayals help explain the success (or lack thereof) of sociology books?
3. Although the study is about books that sell, a related topic is about books with influence. Have students write a short reflection paper on the sociology books that helped shape their decision to pursue sociology as a college major or career. Why were these books influential? Are these the types of books that also sell a lot? Why or why not?
4. Finally, the underlying tension in the article is the role of sociology in public life. If bestselling books are any indication, it appears sociologists may not be playing a prominent role in popular debates. Ask students if they agree with this conclusion. If so, then how might sociologists reclaim their role in public life?
This assignment would be particularly useful in a class where students are writing papers on topics of their choice. It will help students find and interpret scholarly sources for their papers, and time could be spent in class sharing Discoveries in order for students to learn about other potential sources. The most recent Discoveries are available on the Discoveries Blog (see website below).
MAKING SOCIOLOGY PUBLIC
1. Pick an article in a peer-reviewed sociology journal that relates to the current class topics.
2. Go to http://www.contexts.org/discoveries and read sample Discoveries.
3. Using the Discoveries section from Contexts as a model, write your own Discovery to introduce the article you chose to an audience that is not trained in sociology. Be sure to identify the author’s main argument and the evidence used to support the argument, but keep it short and to the point.
4. Be prepared to share the Discovery with the class.