Over on Citings & Sightings, Hollie found a great NY Times opinion piece by Dan Slater called “Darwin Was Wrong About Dating,” which analyzes theories of dating norms through evolutionary psychology.  I would definitely incorporate this article into a course or lesson on gender norms in sexual behavior. By breaking down certain Darwinian theories of gendered mating practices, the piece does a great job of showing how such theories can fall apart when examined through a sociological lens.

Students very often come to sociology classes with assumptions about fundamental, biological differences between men and women when it comes to heterosexual dating practices (“men are naturally more aggressive and compete for the attention of women”, “women are less promiscuous because they need a male partner to provide for children”, “men have a biological drive to spread their seed”, etc.)

Try the following activity in your class to help get students thinking about the social construction of dating practices:

Before students have read the article (probably in the beginning of the semester), ask the class to start naming off various beliefs about dating practices and write them on the board. For example, you could ask: “What do you (or others, or certain scientists) think is natural, or biological, about heterosexual dating practices?”

Then, after they have read the article (this could be in the same class period or between two class periods), ask them if they still believe anything about dating practices and norms is biologically determined. You could have them break into small groups and look through the research cited in the article, and then pose the question to the class. Then, as they begin to explore the various social norms that determine dating practices, ask how this changes their view on dating and sexual encounters in general. This will surely start a lively discussion about our  society’s taken-for -granted assumptions about gender difference.

As we all scramble to wrap up syllabus planning for the Spring semester, I wanted to share a great podcast I’m adding to mine!

Last week, Office Hours sat down with Joshua I. Newman and Michael Giardina to talk about their recent book Sport, Spectacle, and NASCAR Nation: Consumption and the Cultural Politics of Neoliberalism. Their conversation covered topics including the whiteness of stock car racing, religion and rebellion at the race track, and the production and consumption of Southern identity. 

I’m using this for an American Race Relations class, but it would also work great in a Methods course, as the authors talk about the ethics of conducting ethnographic research with groups of people who are very different from themselves.

The following are some questions to have them answer at home or to get the discussion started in class:

1. Which political party has incorporated NASCAR and NASCAR fans into their campaign strategy? How do the author explain this tactical choice? What do you think about this campaign strategy?

2. The authors point out that NASCAR has attempted to increase the diversity of its fan base. According to the authors’ research, how have some fans responded to this move?

3. What does it mean to “perform whiteness” and what are a few examples given by the authors? Why, according to the authors was this type of performance perhaps more prevalent at racetracks not located in the South?

4. Describe the methods used in this research. Why do the authors stress that this method was essential to address their research questions? Why was this method also challenging for the authors? Explain.

5. What applications might this research have for today’s political climate? How might NASCAR nation have changed under an Obama presidency versus a Bush presidency?


Our own Hollie Nyseth Brehm recently wrote a special feature for TSP entitled “The Crime of Genocide.” The article is a short and concise summary of the conditions that can lead to genocide, as identified by social science research. This would be a great article to use in a course on crime, as criminologists have largely neglected the study of genocide. It’s a great introduction to the topic!

A few questions to get the discussion going:

1. What does the word genocide mean and how did the word come to mean what we understand it to mean today?

2. Why have genocides generally been ignored by criminologists? What do they have in common with other types of crime more often studied by such scholars?

3. What does the metaphor “genocide doesn’t come like rain” mean? Why is this the case?

4. How do psychological and individual factors matter (or not matter) when trying to understand which people become perpetrators of genocide?

5. How can the government and characteristics of the state play a role in encouraging genocide? (The author gives several reasons. List them all.)

6. How can the international community play a role in preventing and stopping genocide? How do connections to other countries matter?


The following is another guest post by our own Kyle Green who is teaching Sociological Research Methods this semester and has generously shared teaching activities with us. Thanks Kyle!

During the height of election season (or doldrums depending on your view of the political spectacle that descends upon our country every four years), I shared a teaching activity that had gone well in my large research methods class. The only problem is that the activity loses some of its luster during the three years between debates—asking students to re-watch notable past debates is one option, but I am guessing the students will be less excited when they know the outcome of the election.

With this in mind I recommend a similar activity using the Intelligence Squared debates that pit ‘experts’ against each other with the goal of swaying the audience’s view. There are currently over 60 debates available for download that cover a wide range of topics include should college football be banned, are men ‘finished’, and should the U.N. admit Palestine as a full member state.

For this activity I asked each student to choose any topic of interest that seems sociological (it would also be very easy to pick out five or six that you think are particularly relevant). I then asked them to listen or watch the full debate, take detailed notes about the types of arguments the participants on each side made and the data they used to support their claims.

The students were also required to include:

What debate did they choose to listen to? Why?
What types of information was the most or least convincing? Why?
Did the participants refer to any research on the topic? What type of research? How much detail did they give?
Did they spot any of the common research errors or logical fallacies we discussed in class?
How they think the topic guided or shaped the arguments used?
Did they think about the issue in the same way that they did before?
Did they agree with the audience’s assessment of who won or lost the debate?

I have the students bring their notes to class. I then divide them into groups of three where they have a chance to discuss their observations before we have a larger class discussion about the lessons we learned. I have found that one of the richest parts of the discussion is thinking through the types of data used during the debates and how the effectiveness varied based by both topic and listener. For instance, some students were suspicious of numbers and swayed by personal experience while others in the class had the exact opposite reaction.

We recommend this great documentary, The Road From Crime, about desistance from crime to show in any crim or intro class. The documentary follows Allan Weaver, a Scottish ex-offender turned probation officer as he explores how individuals like himself get caught up in the criminal justice system, and how some are eventually able to leave a life of crime behind. He discovers that “the system” actually leads to more re-offending, because it encourages labeling and stigmatization of ex-offenders.

The film references the research of American criminologists John Laub and Robert J. Sampson and interviews John Laub and Faye Taxman. Overall, it is a compelling and passionate discussion about what offenders need to become ex-offenders.

Make sure to show the one with English subtitles! The accents are hard to understand with American English ears :)

To listen to an interview with two criminologists who worked on the film (and its parent project, Discovering Desistance), please visit our Office Hours section.

With a marriage amendment looming in Minnesota, I decided to spend a day on this issue in my Sociology of Families class. I wanted to present both sides of the issue without having to do it myself–because I could have hardly been neutral on the subject–so I had the students read short commentaries on the subject in class and evaluate the persuasiveness of the arguments.

This activity could apply to any contentious political issue that you would like to discuss in class, but are wary of sounding biased.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how I organized this activity in my class of 80 students:
(I allowed about an hour for this activity, but it could definitely have been longer.)

1. Before class, I collected several different commentaries from a major newspaper–half opposed to the amendment and half in favor of it. I paired one opposed with one in favor and stapled them together in a pack.

2. First, I split my class into groups of 4-5 and had each group read one commentary supporting the amendment and one opposing it–so each packet was being analyzed by two groups only.

3. I gave them 10 minutes or so read the commentaries, asking them to look for arguments that they found compelling or not compelling. I instructed them to underline and take notes on their handout, especially focusing on arguments that relate to themes we have discussed in class. For example, what have we learned in class that would serve as evidence to either suport or refute this claim?

4. Then, I had them discuss the articles with their small groups, and share which arguments they had focused on. This is the part that could have been a bit longer. Most groups appeared to be having spirited conversations about the articles.

5. Lastly, I asked them to share their analyses with the class. When they shared which arguments they had discussed, I prodded them to explain why they found that specific argument compelling or not compelling, and urged them to bring in material from class that would support their claim. (This part didn’t come as easy to them, which made me think that this would also be a great take-home exercise where they would have more time to reference their notes from previous classes). I took notes on their comments on the board, but I don’t think I would do that again. I feel it might have been a more fluid discussion without it.

Our friends over at Norton have created several animations that highlight sociological concepts, like the paradoxes of race and worldwide inequality (posted below). They will be posting new ones every couple of weeks on Norton’s youtube page. These would be great to show in class to help illustrate concepts for students!

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.

In my families class last week, I had students fill out a “sociological” family tree, where they noted social trends in their own families over four generations.Here’s the pdf!


As you make the family tree, make note of social trends, such as: # of children (or remaining childless), marriage, divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, single parenthood, and living alone/remaining single. Other things to pay attention to: age of marriage and childbearing, educational attainment, women in workforce, social class (intergenerational mobility), interracial families, and gay/lesbian families. (You can make this as detailed or simple as you would like)

I paired this activity with the Contexts article “Families” by Tey Meadow and Judith Stacey from 2006.

If you plan on having students write papers or reflect on their own families throughout the course, this is good way for them to visualize patterns within their own families and compare them to trends in the U.S.

Here’s another great podcast that I’ll be using in my Families class this fall!

We interviewed Professor Katherine Newman about her book  The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition. In this book, she and a team of researchers explore why, in the world’ wealthiest countries, an increasing number of adults in their twenties and thirties are moving back in with their parents. She compares the incidence of accordion families in Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, and the U.S.

I suggest having students listen to the podcast at home (in lieu of a reading) and answer these questions to prepare them for a class discussion:

1. What is an accordion family? What is a boomerang child? Which countries have high rates of accordion families? Which countries have low rates?

2. Why is it difficult to conduct the same survey in multiple countries? What was one difficulty that Newman and her research team faced? How did she attempt to alleviate this?

3. What are the conventional “markers of adulthood” and how have they changed? For example, why are boomerang children considered “adults” even though they do not have the “markers of adulthood”?

4. According to Newman’s findings, how are immigration and accordion families interconnected?

5. Newman gives a few reasons why, in the United States, parents and children have adapted well to the accordion family structure. What are these reasons?

6. How does social class matter when it comes to accordion families? Newman gives several examples.

7. Which countries have adjusted well to accordion families and which have resisted this new family structure?

8. What makes Japan so unique when it comes to perceptions of accordion families?

9. In Nordic countries, what prevents accordion families?

10. What recommendations does Professor Newman make for U.S. social policy?

11. According the Prof. Newman, are accordion families on the way out?

    Here are some additional resources on Professor Newman’s findings: