There’s Research On That!” (#TROT) is a blogging project at The Society Pages that presents short summaries of classic and contemporary research relevant to current events as a resource for journalists and the public. While our archives are a great resource for students looking to kick-start a sociological research paper or for readers who want a fresh take on the news for their next cocktail party, the format of these posts also works great for class assignments! For this activity, students write their own TROT posts as an exercise in collecting, evaluating, and summarizing research.


  1. Browse the “There’s Research On That!” blog to get a sense of how TROT posts are written. They usually start with a summary of a current event, then provide sociological ideas relevant to the matter at the hand. The author highlights one to four key ideas from the research and includes citations for each source with hyperlinks to the authors’ website and the publication information.
  2. Choose a recent news event or pop culture trend to analyze. Ask yourself, “What would sociologists have to say about this that the rest of the media may be missing?” Make a list of a few possible themes to investigate about the topic, such as the impact of social construction, institutions, or networks.
  3. Search for literature on your themes using an online database such as JSTOR, Sociological Abstracts, or Google Scholar. Select three to five pieces that speak to the themes or provide broader information about the topic.

***Start with major journals in the field—American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, or Social Problems—but the search doesn’t end there! Books and publications focusing more narrowly on subfields, such as Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Gender & Society, or Deviant Behavior are always helpful. Also, remember to think broadly; sometimes a general article about the topic can be more helpful than one that fits the news story perfectly.

  1. Evaluate the research. Read the methodology sections of any journal articles, or find reviews of the books published in academic journals. Do you find the conclusion(s) convincing, based on the evidence provided? Is the methodology high quality? Which pieces provide the best takeaways for a general reader? Once you’ve considered the possible sources separately, consider how they will fit together in your post. From your list, pick the best two or three pieces to include in your article.
  2. Write a TROT post in the style of the website. Remember the main components: a short summary of the news, including links to media coverage so the reader can see what’s already been written; key takeaways you identified in the sociological literature; and citations of the research. Be prepared to discuss in class why you picked the sources you did.

TROT is an evolving project quickly becoming an integral part of TSP. Instructors are encouraged to contact the TSP staff (email with the best TROT posts from this assignment for possible publication on TSP!

Note: At the time this post was written, The Society Pages’ Discoveries were called The Reading List.

DISC clippedFindings about lifetime earnings, fertility, graduation rates, and gentrification are interesting all on their own, but how do sociologists go about studying these topics? To address this question for my Intro to Sociology class, I began with a 10-min. mini-lecture on “Methods” based on the info in Ch. 2 of Dalton Conley’s You May Ask Yourself textbook. (The students had SQ3Red this chapter for homework.) To kick it off, I reviewed how sociology was different from the other disciplines—our topic from the previous class, and then got into the new material about variables, samples, qualitative and quantitative, methods, etc.

So that the students could develop a fuller sense of the new concepts they learned, I created this methods sheet for the class to practice applying them. First, as an example, we answered the questions from the sheet about the first article in the Reading List Packet together as a class. Students were able to ask questions about the procedure and I could clarify the directions before they tried one on their own.

Then, students were instructed to get into small groups of 2 or 3. Each group was directed to work on answering the questions about a different Reading List article. When all groups had finished, each reported back to the class what the question, findings and methods were.

Why I like this activity:

  • it’s easy to differentiate if you have a heterogeneous class. The Reading List articles vary in difficulty, so you could assign easier articles to groups that struggle and more difficult ones to groups that need a challenge. Alternatively, you could differentiate by interest by letting each group claim which article to begin with.
  • if one group gets done way ahead of the others, they can move on to a different article, so nobody’s stuck waiting around for groups that need more time. If the whole class picks up the skills quickly, you could set a time limit and reward the group that finishes the most articles before time is up.
  • it’s social—at the beginning of the semester, students can get to know one another, and get comfortable working together and sharing answers with the class
  • having groups report back to the whole class provides a low-stakes way for the teacher to correct students’ misunderstandings in a way that benefits the whole class
  • students learn about the breadth of sociological inquiry while practicing their skills of identifying parts of a research article (and—perhaps more importantly—the parts of a research study)


A still from the Public Enemy video for "Fight the Power." Chuck D, holding the bullhorn, has since become an outspoken agitator and public figure working toward equality and political participation.
A still from the Public Enemy video for “Fight the Power.” Chuck D, holding the bullhorn, has since become an outspoken agitator and public figure working toward equality and political participation.

In our volume The Social Side of Politics, Vincent J. Roscigno’s article, “Power, Sociologically Speaking,” serves as the lead essay. In it, we learn that you can’t discuss politics without discussing power. This activity helps highlight the point for students and instructors alike.

Guidelines for the facilitator:

  1. Make four signs labeled “agree,” “strongly agree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree.” Hang one sign in each corner of the room.
  2. Tell participants that you will read a statement about power (listed below). After you read the first, participants should move to stand under the sign that most closely reflects their reaction to the statement.
  3. After participants have assembled under the signs, ask each group to discuss why they picked that position and choose a spokesperson to explain their rationale to the entire group.
  4. After each group presents its opinion, as participants to return to the center of the room, then disperse, again, to the sign that most closely represents their reaction to the same statement. If they choose, participants can change their position. Ask a few to explain whether and why they changed—or did not change—their position after hearing out the other groups.
  5. Repeat for each statement, adding or subtracting to alter the length of the exercise.

Statements about Power:

  • Power corrupts.
  • You can’t get anything done without power.
  • Power is connected to race (class/gender/etc.).
  • People or organizations that want to change things in their community should seek power.
A scene from "The Road from Crime"
A scene from “The Road from Crime”

In our volume Crime and the Punished, we featured our interview with sociologist-filmmakers Shadd Maruna and Fergus McNeill. This activity builds from their film:

How and why people stop committing crime is an important question. “Discovering Desistance,” by Sarah Lageson and Sarah Shannon describes how two social scientists “co-created” “The Road from Crime,” a film about desistance from the perspective of former prisoners and the practitioners who work with them. Watch the 50-minute film as you consider these discussion questions:

  1. In what ways might the criminal justice system promote reoffending?
  2. According to the filmmakers, desistance is both an “internal” and an “external” process. Where do you see internal and external processes in the film.
  3. What punishment policies might be changed, added, or abandoned to better promote desistance?
  4. Most people who work in the criminal justice system have never been convicted of serious crimes. How might the system be different if it incorporated more input from people who had been punished under it?

After watching the film, imagine that you are a social worker in a community to which many ex-prisoners return. What resources do you think you’d need to address community needs and help former inmates desist from crime? What community leaders or organizations would you need to enlist for support? Discuss your thoughts in a group and draw up a list of the “stakeholders” whose voices are critical for designing your policy.

Below is a guest post by Zachary Miner, a Sociology PhD student at SUNY Albany.  Zachary’s dissertation addresses stigma and firearms ownership cultures in the United States, but he enjoys researching a variety of other topics including gender/sexualities, work, and addiction.  In the post, he suggests an activity which uses examples from students’ everyday lives to explore gender stereotyping.
When presenting a topic in class, I find that it enhances students’ interest and participation levels if they see the relevance of that topic to their own lives. For that reason, I try to incorporate examples with which students are likely to be familiar, and which will cause them to engage more with the lesson. This is certainly good practice at all times, but it is especially important when discussing something that students may have deeply-held, or “common-sense,” beliefs about, such as gender. Students may find it unconvincing, for example, if you simply state as fact that adult women are often infantilized and marginalized when they try to enter realms traditionally dominated by men. However, if you can provide an example that they’re familiar with, and show them how to critically examine that example, it will help lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the concept.

The suggested activity to distribute to students is as follows:

Find one or more instances in your daily life where adult women are marginalized or infantilized (treated as if they are a child). Examples could include news stories, photographs, videos, websites, written accounts, etc. Once you’ve found your example, write a brief description/summary of the aspects you’ve identified as marginalizing or infantilizing, and then a 1-2 page reflection on why you think this behavior is taking place. Be sure to write in detail about the item you’ve chosen, and include references to relevant material from class (textbook, articles, etc.). Bring your item, and your reflection paper, to class and be prepared to discuss.

Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 11.59.11 AM

After giving out the assignment, I recommend working through an example in-class to get students thinking critically. Here’s one suggestion:

Ask the students if anyone in the class plays fantasy football (this works especially well in the Fall semester!). Inquire if one of the people who has raised their hand would be willing to explain to the class how the game works. Then, bring up the Fox
Sports fantasy football website dedicated to tracking a fantasy football league called “The Fox Sports Girls.”

After reviewing the site, begin a class discussion, focusing on some of the following points:

  • Ask students to identify examples of infantilization/marginalization within the page.
    • Examples:
      • Calling it “Girls Fantasy Draft” sets up an infantilizing tone from the start (“girls,” not “women”)
      • The double-entendre inviting viewers to enter a contest to compete with the Fox Sports Girls (“Want to play in their league?”) evokes the possibility of dating the women seen in the photographs (i.e. – “she’s out of my league”)
      •  The cutesy names for many of the teams (“Sunshine Sweeties,” “If The Shoe Fitz,” “Motor City Kitties,” and “The Cheesehead Cuties”)
  • Who is the target audience for this portion of the site, men or women? How do we know?
  • Highlight how the photographs of the women, with smiling faces, are prominently displayed at the top of the page. Explain how reducing women to just their bodies is common in our culture to devalue the contributions of women – see a sports-related example of this here. Compare this page to the rest of the site.
  • Ask students to explain why the male writers and commentators of Fox Sports are not portrayed as smiling faces alone. Ask students to conjecture why these women’s photographs are all that viewers can see, with no credentials or accomplishments listed, much less any advice about fantasy football.
  • Why is this “girls page” separate from the rest of the site?
  • Ask why there needs to be a gender binary in fantasy football at all. Why, in an activity with no physical component whatsoever, does Fox Sports re-create a gender binary based on physicality (i.e. – women and men play sports separately because women tend to be smaller/lighter)?
  • Also, remind students to be wary of taking “natural” differences too far. You might consider showing this clip from “Mythbusters”  – which suggests that at least some of the differences between the sports performance of men and women is actually cultural, and not biological.
  • Ask students to explain why the network believed it would be more appealing to feature a fantasy football team of only women than a Fox Sports team with both male and female staffers. Have students consider why the selling point of this team is that it is populated by women? Remind students that when something is seen as a novelty, or an aberration, it’s easier to dismiss it, or treat it less seriously, than if it is presented as the norm.

Fantasy Football Draft White Background
If you want to give students additional material to consider, or if you want to show that Fox Sports isn’t the only offender, you might also give students this article: “Ladies, fantasy football is much easier than you think,” by Alex Flanagan. In this article – which is intended to show that women can be good at fantasy football too – Flanagan unfortunately ends up reinforcing many stereotypes of femininity (beginning with the title of the article which implies that women don’t understand fantasy football). She describes the ups and downs of being involved in an all-women’s fantasy football league where the competitors initially rank their choices based on the physical attractiveness of the available players, they report viewing the team as an “outlet where you can be bitchy and competitive without hurting anyone’s feelings,” and where the prize at the end of the season is a purse

  • Have students discuss whether this article is a net positive or a net negative for women who play fantasy football.
    • Is it a dignifying account of women breaking stereotypes, or are the descriptions in the article continuing the marginalization of female fantasy football players?
  •  Ask students to consider the difference between “bitchiness” (in this all-female league) and “trash talk” (in an all-male league).
    • Why is this an expected part of the male fantasy football experience, but takes on a negative connotation when in a female league?
    • Explore how social norms of female politeness persist throughout society and limit the acceptable range of female emotions and behaviors.

You might also show this video “What is Yahoo! Fantasy Football?”, in which sports reporter Melanie Collins gives a mostly-neutral overview of what fantasy football is about, until the closing of the video where she acknowledges that skill does not always equal success, noting that, “Heck, even my Aunt Linda won last year!”

  • Ask students to consider whether the statement would still make sense if she had substituted “Uncle Jon” for “Aunt Linda.” Then explore with students why it reads as humorous to be beaten in a fantasy sports game by your aunt, but not by your uncle.
  • Ask students why a female reporter was chosen for this spot. Who are the target audiences? Would those audiences be more comfortable with a woman explaining fantasy football to them than a man?


The exercise described above can easily lead into a larger discussion of gender in sports. This is a fertile area for debate including the topics of how  women’s sports as a whole are seen as less exciting (and less marketable) than men’s sports, female competitors typically get paid less than men, and even female employees are largely relegated to secondary status (“sideline reporter” rather than “commentator,” for example). It could also offer an opportunity to explore the variety of ways in which women’s participation in traditionally male domains is de-legitimized.

The goal of this type of exercise is to get students thinking critically about something they’re familiar with, and considering what gendered messages exist within various aspects of their lives. Ideally, these kinds of exercises will help them realize that gender isn’t something they hear about for three hours a week in the classroom, or only read about in books, but rather is something they can see happening all around them.




Below is a guest post by Marie E. Berry, a Sociology PhD student at UCLA.  Marie studies the political engagement of women after mass violence.  In the post below, she suggests an activity to accompany Megan Comfort’s recent special feature.

Who is affected when an individual goes to prison? Megan Comfort’s recent special feature, “Repercussions of Incarceration on Close Relationships,” is a powerful reminder of the wide-reaching impact of the U.S.’s high incarceration rates on our society. This article would be an important addition to any class that tackles issues related the criminal justice system, class, race, or inequality in general. It could also be used in the context of an international human rights law class, especially as it references the ways different countries are tackling the issue of incarcerated mothers.

Incarceration rates have increased at an astonishing pace over the past few decades. As Comfort notes, the number of people behind bars in the U.S. has jumped from approximately 380,000 in the mid-1970s to 2.2 million on any given day today. We don’t yet have a way of assessing the full social effects of this, although we can begin to imagine some impacts given that just over one-half of all prisoners report that they are a parent to a child under 18 (Glaze and Muraschak 2010).

The following exercise would be useful for two primary purposes: first, to help students comprehend the vast number of people who are affected when an individual goes to prison, and second, to begin a discussion what this means in the context of the class, racial, and regional inequalities that exist within the criminal justice system. This activity could be done individually and is written as such; however, it could also be done as a class with several volunteers completing the exercise on the white board.

  1. Imagine that each member of the class will be spending the following 3 years in prison.
  2. Take out a blank sheet of paper, and start by placing your name at the center of the paper.
  3. Draw one ring of “ripples.” Within this ring, list the names of the people in your life that will be the most directly impacted by your absence. Think here about immediate family members, best friends, etc.
  4. Think now about how your absence will affect each individual in this ripple, using what you learned in Comfort’s article.  Specifically, think about the following questions:
    • Who would come visit you?
    • What responsibilities do you currently have that will have to be adopted by someone else? (Financial responsibilities? Support obligations?)
    • Which relationships will be strained by your absence?
    • Using what you learned in Comfort’s article, who in your life might go through a “secondary prisonization”?
  5. Next, draw a second ring.  On this ripple, list the names of other people who will be directly affected by your absence. Think here about your employer, your classmates, your group of friends, etc.
    • How will your absence affect each individual in this ripple?
  6. Outside of these ripples, try to list the names of everybody else you interact with on a regular basis. What impact will your absence have on these individuals?

While this activity doesn’t fully assess the network of individuals whose lives are affected by the incarceration of a single individual, it will help students grasp the scope of our penal system’s impact on our society.  It might also be helpful to note that this isn’t a “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” exercise, which might lead students to make assumptions about the reasons for their hypothetical “imprisonment.” Instead, it is a chance to begin to assess the interconnectedness of our society and thus the number of lives that are affected each time someone goes to prison.

It would then be good to follow this activity with some general discussion questions.  These could be discussed in small groups or as a class.

  1. This activity began to give us an idea of the vast number of people who would be affected if you were to go to prison. Now, let’s consider these ripple effects in the context of what we know about the profiles of the US prison population. What are some of the family, community, and society level effects of incarceration rates, given that the people most likely to end up behind bars are extremely poor, African American, and live in areas of comparable disadvantage?
  2. What does Loïc Wacquant mean when he refers to the phenomenon of “hyperincarceration”? In which ways does the US criminal justice system target policing and punishment policies “first by class, second by race, and third by place”?
  3. Comfort describes how female visitors to the prison are often asked to change clothes, which they must find in a bin of discarded attire in the visitor’s center. How does this restriction on the individuality and autonomy of the visitors parallel similar restrictions on the incarcerated population? What impacts might this have on an individual/family/community/etc.? How does this process reflect what Foucault described as a process of dismantling of the self?
  4. How might incarceration continue to have ripple effects once an individual is released?

Today we have a guest post from our fellow TSP board member, Kyle Green. Kyle is teaching Sociological Research Methods and wanted to share this activity that he is having his students complete while watching the presidential debates. Thanks Kyle!

I believe that one of the most important skills that a sociology major learns is how to recognize a good/bad argument, how to recognize when someone is using the right/wrong data to support their view, and to think about how the effectiveness of different types of argument varies by both topic and situation.

The presidential and vice-presidential debates present a great opportunity to put these skills into use. And it gets the students to think critically about politics, which is never a bad thing.

I require that the students in my research methods class watch any two of the four debates. They are asked to take detailed notes about the types of arguments the participants on each side made and the data they used to support their claims. The notes should also include:

  •  Self-reflection (How closely do they follow politics? Are they a strong supporter of a particular political party or involved in particular issues? Did watching the debate change their view?)
  • What arguments did they find the most or least convincing? Why?
  • What type of information was the most or least effective in this format?
  • How did the format of the debates affect the arguments used and supporting information presented?
  • Did you spot any of the common research errors or logical fallacies we discussed in class?

I have the students bring their notes to the first class after the final debate. I then divide them into groups of three where they have a chance to discuss their observations before have a larger class discussion about the lessons we learned.