Looking for a new book to update your social theory course or one to simply jumpstart your first time teaching it? Former Contexts Graduate Editors Wesley Longhofer and Daniel Winchester have created a new book, Social Theory Re-Wired: New Connections to Classical and Contemporary Perspectives (Routledge), which offers a new and exciting way to teach social theory to today’s students.  Full disclosure here: due to their work on TSP, we’re not exactly unbiased.  We’re proud!

The book combines a print reader with an impressive website that provides a wide variety of innovative material including interactive annotations of key readings, summaries of key concepts, biographies of theorists and schools, writing activities with interactive capabilities, and an array of supplemental texts and videos. The reader itself is organized around five vignettes, which range from the financial crisis to our Facebook profiles, and includes original excerpts from Durkheim, Weber, Marx, and Simmel, as well as Judith Butler, Patricia Hill Collins, Pierre Bourdieu, Zygmunt Bauman, and many more. The combination of a print reader with a truly interactive website make this book a useful contribution to any social theory class, whether it is online, in person, or somewhere in between. You can order an exam copy of the book here and peruse portions of the website here.

Wes is currently an assistant professor in the business school at Emory University. Dan is finishing his PhD in sociology at the University of Minnesota.

As sociologist Jessie Daniels notes in a new TSP Special Feature, showing a film in class isn’t just a day off.  Instead, films are visual texts, and Jessie suggests many documentaries that could be used in the classroom.  Several readers commented, so we thought we would compile all of them into a single post.


Intro Soc Class:

“49 Up” (2005)

“The Split Horn: Life of a Hmong Shaman in America” (2001)

“Quiet Rage” (1991)

“The Devil’s Playground” (2002)

We Live in Public” (2009)



The End of Poverty?” (2008)

Garbage Dreams” (2009)



“HIP-HOP:Beyond Beats & Rhymes” (2006)

“Southern Comfort” (2001)

“The Pill” (1999)

“Chisolm ‘72: Unbought & Unbossed” (2004)

“Heart of the Game” (2005)



Resolved” (2007)

The Lottery” (2010)


Prison Documentaries for Crime and Punishment Courses

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo (2009)

The Dhamma Brothers (2008)

The Farm (1998)

Writ Writer (2008)

Ghosts of Attica (2001)


Re-entry Documentary

Omar and Pete (prison reentry) (2005)


Death & Dying

Ikiru” (1952)

The Seventh Seal” (1957)

Of Gods and Men” (2010)

Tell Me a Riddle” (1980)

Dead Man” (1995)



Harvest of Shame (1960)

American Harvest (2008)

The Harvest/La Cosecha (2011)

New Harvest, Old Shame (1990)


Various Others from TSP Readers:

From Nathan Palmer:

Race The Power of an Illusion Pvert 3: The House We Live In (2003)
My favorite film to show how historic and institutional racial discrimination is affecting us to this day. It does a great job connecting whiteness to citizenship and explaining red lining/block busting. I use it in my 101s and race & ethnicity classes.

The Color of Fear (1994)
An oldie, but a goodie. The film is a recording of 9 men of different racial ethnic backgrounds talking candidly about race. My only critique of the film is there are no women included and multiple racial groups are left out as well.

Food Inc. (2008)
More than anything I want my students in my environmental sociology class to understand how social inequality and environmental degradation are connected. The portion of this film dedicated to the mistreatment of farmers, factory workers, and the animals/land they use is priceless.

The Battle for Whiteclay (2008)
This independent film documents how 4 liquor stores in Whiteclay, NE (a town of 14 people) sell 12,500 cans of beer a day. The off-sale liquor stores take advantage of their proximity to the Pine Ridge Reservation, who banned alcohol sales and possession on their lands. Despite there being no legal place for the 12,500 cans to be consumed (Whiteclay only has off-sale establishments) there have been nearly no arrests while the liquor dealers make millions of dollars annually. The video is an excellent example of government corruption, exploitation, and selective law enforcement.

Inside Job (2010)
The 2008 credit crisis is a perfect example of how changes at the institutional level have a cascading affect all the way down to the individual. It also gets at how social problems are socially constructed. This film more than any other explains the complex crisis in a way that is approachable.


From Andrew Lindner:

Manufactured Landscapes” (2006), based on the work of photographer Edward Burtynsky, it has some unbelievable footage from Chinese factories. Great for teaching about globalization and capitalism.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” (1996) – a classic documentary on the (now recently freed) West Memphis Three. A powerful and disturbing illustration of stigma and social control.

The War Room” (1993) – an insider’s look into Bill Clinton’s path to victory in the 1992 primaries. I use this in my “Political Sociology” course to talk about rhetoric, political strategy, and political professionals.

Flow: For Love of Water” (2008) – a terrifying documentary on our dwindling water supply and how it is owned and managed by corporations for profit. Great for discussions of capitalism, privatization, or environmental sociology.

Secret of the Wild Child” (1994) – an outstanding PBS/Nova documentary on feral children, particularly the famous Genie case mentioned in almost every sociology text. Challenges many students assumptions about socialization.


Clip Ideas from Carolyn Liebler:

Little Miss Sunshine – for students to pick out examples of material culture, non-material culture, subculture, counterculture, face and face work, front stage, and back stage behavior.

Wedding Crashers – as a way to apply the following theories of deviance: rational choice, labeling theory, differential association theory, and obligatory action.

The beginning of Ghostbusters – to apply the three major tenets of ethical research methods

Fiddler on the Roof – to play “spot that social institution!” and talk about how social institutions are interrelated.


From Joe Soss:

At the River I Stand

Merchants of Cool

Occupation: Dreamland

Stonewall Uprising

Inside Job


East of the Blue Marble

One of our sister blogs recently posted on the issue of welcoming new students.  The blog author was emailed by an elementary teacher who is expecting a new student from China.  The student will be the only Asian child in the community, and the teacher was seeking advice on how to help him feel less alone or isolated.  We enjoyed reading the blog’s response, found here, and wanted to share it!

Evil Chase?

The first of many roundtables on TSP explores how social scientists study social movements.  It would be a great complement to a discussion on social movements or a discussion of research methodology.  And, to give you more ideas on teaching social movements, Professor Ron Aminzade was kind enough to provide us with a syllabus he has used in the past.  The syllabus is from 2004, so adding this roundtable and some other new literature would be a good step.  Download it here!

Mr. Bowling's OpusAfter watching Robin Williams challenge his class to think for themselves in the Dead Poets Society, I was left thinking about what defines good teaching.  A few days later, I watched the State of the Union and listened while President Obama noted that a good teacher can increase the lifetime earnings of a class by $250,000.  So, what is good teaching?

A post last year on one of our sister blogs, Sociology Lens, addresses part of this question by asserting that good teaching is about knowing students as people.  In the post, Margaret Austin Smith draws upon sociological research to explain what she thinks good teaching is all about.  Check it out here.  But, we’d also love to hear from you—what makes a good teacher?

Below is a guest post from Dr. Timothy Gongaware, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.


In many of my classes, I have students explore George Herbert Mead’s discussions regarding the genesis of the self. Although the phases of play and game seem to be very well spelled out, I like to see just how well students can actually identify them and use that as a chance to explore what they may look like in the actual activities of others. In the classroom, I solicit example stories of children’s behaviors and activities, and we have fun exploring them and their variations in some depth. For the social psychology course I teach online, however, I give the following assignment:

After completing the assigned reading, take some time to consider what might be good examples of the phases in the genesis of the self. They are, in fact, all around us all of the time. After considering the phases for a while, search the internet (e.g., YouTube) to find video examples of both play and game.

By Tuesday evening, you should complete the following on the “Activity 2.1” discussion board: post a link to the examples; provide a proper definition of the concept of play and game; and, provide an explanation for how the video appropriately represents the related concept (extra credit will be given for a clear and well defined example of “pure play”). Then, by Wednesday evening, come back to read what others have posted and respond to, comment on and explore at least two of the examples.

Since it is not as well spelled out in Mead’s discussions, students typically find it more difficult to grasp the idea of “pure play” which precedes and helps to better develop the play and game of older individuals. This difficulty is often confounded by a common misunderstanding I’ve discovered among students who have previously been taught or read about GH Mead’s ideas. Specifically, students have indicated an understanding that “imitation” is the first thing babies do on the road to self genesis So, in addition to exploring Mead’s lengthy assertion that a baby/child cannot imitate until after they have begun to develop a sense of self (until after they develop at least a rudimentary ability to play), I encourage students to give concerted attention to the engagement of “pure play” by offering extra credit for posting clear and/or fun examples.

The clip below was recently submitted by a student as an example of pure play for the assignment and has become one of my favorites. The clip condenses a 4 hour video of a baby at play down into 2 minutes.


In addition to being just darned fun, the clip is an excellent example of what Mead referred to in various places as pure play: as those attitudes and activities which are not oriented to others, are not part of the construction of meaning with others, but which emerge from an unsocialized ‘I’, and, as Deegan emphasizes, emerge from a stimulus that calls out a detached act. The time lapsed video very clearly shows how a continuous and random shifting of focus expresses itself as the baby moves from stimuli to stimuli. From here the conversation can move to what a parent would do if they were in the room: helping the child learn to connect response and stimuli by acting as though the child were making meaningful choices and channeling/directing the child’s attention. In addition to the concept of pure play, it would seem very appropriate as an example of a human who is not yet able to treat themselves as an object and is acting only as a subject in the environment.


In need of some last minute ideas for your sociology 101 course?  Nathan Palmer has compiled a great set of lecture slides, activities, syllabi, and assignments that you can download for free!  Here is the link.


Over on The Society Pages’ Cyborgology blog, Sarah Wanenchak writes about using images of amputee  athletes in her  Social Problems course.  Check it out!


Oscar Pistorius

A group of graduate students at the University of Minnesota put together these fantastic resources on teaching race, ethnicity, and migration.

The Global REM Teaching Modules are a set of teaching resources related to Global R(ace) E(thnicity) and M(igration). Modules are appropriate for use in high school classrooms, and introductory college-level courses. Each teaching module includes a brief introduction to the topic, source materials, discussion questions, and suggested readings. These modules provide busy instructors with a series of comprehensive and organized 50-minute lesson plans for facilitating learning related to global race, ethnicity, and migration. At the same time, they are flexible enough to provide instructors room to use the modules in ways appropriate to the particular aims of their own course themes.

The main objectives of the Global REM Teaching Modules:

  1. To improve students’ research skills by encouraging them to utilize and analyze a variety of source materials
  2. To increase use of source materials related to issues of race, ethnicity, and migration, particularly in a global and/or comparative context
  3. To foster interdisciplinary thinking and to incorporate a wide range of disciplinary perspectives and methods in the classroom
  4. To provide busy teaching assistants and instructors with ready-made lesson plans for 50-minute class periods. The modules are especially designed for teaching assistants and instructors who may not have an expertise in race, ethnicity, and migration but aim to augment discussion of global issues related to these topics

The teaching modules were developed by an interdisciplinary team of graduate students in 2007, and are maintained by the Institute for Global Studies and the Immigration History Research Center. If you have questions or comments about the teaching modules, you may direct them to outreach@umn.edu.


Here is a list of miscellaneous teaching resources that the graduate students at the University of Minnesota have compiled.  We hope it’s helpful!

SOCNET: Sociology Courses and Curricular Resources Online – This website has links to all kinds of sociology courses, activities, syllabi, and other curricula online.

ASA Online Bookstore – Includes resources on teaching techniques, ASA Syllabi Sets, research briefs and volumes, social policy volumes, reference materials, national department information and management resources, and special journal issues and indexes (all for sale as hardcopies).

Reaching the Second Tier: Learning and Teaching Styles in College Science Education, by Richard Felder – This is an article about learning styles and how to teach students with different ways of understanding information.

Good Teaching: The Top Ten Requirements, Richard Leblanc – An article with tips for effective teaching.

Good Teaching Practices, Barbara Gross Davis – A compendium of classroom-tested strategies and suggestions designed to improve the teaching practices of all college instructors, including beginning, mid-career, and senior faculty members. The book describes 49 teaching tools that cover both traditional practical tasks–writing a course syllabus, delivering an effective lecture–as well as newer, broader concerns such as responding to diversity on campus and coping with budget constraints.

Teaching Effectiveness Program, University of Oregon – The Teaching Effectiveness Program provides a wide range and variety of valuable resources for instructors. Among the materials included in this section are general classroom resources, information focusing on diversity, articles about featured University of Oregon teachers, library listings, and web links.

Good Teaching Ideas from the University of Oregon – This site is from the University of Oregon’s Teaching Effectiveness Program. It has links and ideas for group learning, teaching large classes, service learning, and creating a teaching portfolio.

Teaching through Distance Education: An article from Cause/Effect teaching journal – This article, “An Emerging Set of Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and Development of Distance Education Combining Good Teaching with Good Technology”, is an excellent resource for faculty and instructors considering this option and/or using WebCT.

The Nine and a Half Commandments of Good Teaching – In addition to the nine and a half commandments of good teaching, this site has articles and advice on lectures, teaching methods, and classroom management.

Working Conceptualization of ‘Good Teaching’ Introduction – This article is an attempt to define good teaching. It focuses on beliefs and dispositions, the importance of professional and political knowledge, and good teaching practices and skills.

Inside the Mystery of Good Teaching – This article also focuses on good teaching and closing the performance gap, and the resources available to teachers in their path to good teaching.

WebCT Tools and the Good Teaching Principles They Support – This site outlines the tools available through WebCT and the learning and interaction goals they help students and instructors meet.

Teaching Tips Index – This useful index includes information and articles about learning styles, motivating students, course design, dealing with difficult students and behavior, the first day of class, assessment techniques, lesson plans, syllabus design, and much more.