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?