Here is an activity that was given to us by Amy Alsup, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota.  The activity revolves around a clip from Season 1 of Mad Men located on Youtube and entitled “Peggy and the Gynecologist.”

Scene Description:

It is the early 1960s and Peggy Olson begins work at Sterling Cooper advertising agency as a secretary.  Her co-worker Joan recommends that Peggy embrace the attention from men and “show a little leg.”  In this scene, Peggy visits the gynecologist to get a prescription for contraceptives.  The gynecologist warns Peggy not to “be a strumpet” and sleep around just because she is not likely to get pregnant on the pill.

This clip demonstrates stereotypical attitudes about women and sexuality.  While women are expected to give men sexual attention, they are at risk of being considered “tramps” if they are rumored to be involved in high amounts of sexual activity.  The gynecologist in this scene warns Peggy, “Even in these modern times, easy women don’t find husbands.”  The assumption here is twofold: women are expected to give men sexual attention under the radar but still expected to “be proper” and get married.  Although it is not Peggy’s intention to immediately “find a husband,” it is expected that this is her goal.

This clip could be used to introduce a lecture, discussion or active learning exercise on the medicalization of women’s sexuality.  It could also be used to introduce a broad discussion on gender roles and sexuality in the 1960s.

Active Learning Exercise Idea:

Have students read a book or article about women’s sexuality and social control.  Show this video clip in class, and have students write a written reflection addressing the following questions, then discuss with a partner:

(1) How are women’s bodies subject to control today?  Is this different or similar than in the past?

(2)  Birth control for many women was empowering when it was first prescribed in the 1960s.  However, prescriptions were also regulated and controlled in large part by men.  How is women’s health regulated today?  Are there improvements or new setbacks?  What are they?

(3)  What is medicalization?  How can this concept be used to understand the power dichotomies between doctors and patients?  Men and women?

Ideas for texts include:

Conrad, Peter. 1992.  “Medicalization and Social Control.”  Annual Review of Sociology, 18: 209-32.

Gordon, Linda (2002). The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Bouquins XVIIIe

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?

The following case study could accompany any readings or discussion on religion, culture or rights.  For example, it could be used with Jen’nan Ghazal’s “Muslims in America,” which is available through Contexts online.

Lisa is a new professor at a large public university.  Her class just finished a unit on gender, and her students are taking an essay test. Lisa sits near the front of the room and keeps a watchful eye over her students.  The classroom is completely silent except for their pencils scribbling furiously.

Suddenly, one of her students stands up and faces a corner.  He starts to bow, and Lisa realizes that he is praying.  Many of the students look up and start watching him instead of continuing their exam.  Lisa can tell they are distracted, but she also believes that the student has religious freedom. Thus, she decides to pretend that nothing is happening.

After class, a few students approach Lisa and complain about the student who was praying.  They say that they were seriously distracted during the exam and would like 10 more minutes to work on it.


  1. What should Lisa do?
  2. Did Lisa make the right choice to ignore the student instead of asking him to stop?
  3. Should a student be allowed to observe her or his religious rituals during class?   Should this differ around the world?  By the type of school?



Here is another idea for how Downey and Gibbs’ feature article  “How Schools Really Matter” (found in the Spring 2010 issue of Contexts) could be used in the classroom:


Directions:  Given that much educational inequality is due to disparities during the summer months, some people have proposed year-round schooling.  Multiple schools have developed this model, which generally  involves 6-8 weeks of class followed by a 2-week break.

Divide the class into two groups and orchestrate a debate on year-round schooling.  The debate will work best if students are given time to prepare beforehand (either assign the groups in the previous class or bring materials for them to use to prepare in class).

This assignment should be used after students read “How Schools Really Matter” by Douglas B. Downey and Benjamin G. Gibbs (found in the most recent issue of Contexts).  The article would also work great paired with excerpts from Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods. For example, it could be paired with the first 10 pages of the book.

Once students have read these two pieces, assign a short reflection essay as homework or as an in-class reflection  Potential directions include the following:

In this short response, you should reflect on your childhood.  Develop a list of the resources you had in your household and the extracurricular activities that you were enrolled in (both through school and outside of school).  Think about how these various resources contributed to your intellectual development.  Did your parents have a very “hands-on” (concerted cultivation) approach or were they more “hands-off” (natural growth model)?


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).


1.  Pick an article in a peer-reviewed sociology journal that relates to the current class topics.

2.  Go to 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.

This learning activity is the first of a package of exercises to be used with material from the most recent issue of Contexts (Spring 2010). Keep an eye out over the next few weeks for material to accompany the newest issue!

This in-class exercise asks students to evaluate the state of love and marriage in the United States today and to decide whether they think the changes are problematic or progressive. The activity was designed to accompany “The Changing Landscape of Love and Marriage” by Kathleen E. Hull, Ann Meier, and Timothy Ortyl in the new Spring 2010 issue.

Directions: Read the following statistics and statements about the state of relationships in the U.S. today from the article “The Changing Landscape of Love and Marriage” by Kathleen E. Hull, Ann Meier, and Timothy Ortyl. After reading each statement, decide if you think it is a problem or not. Circle “Yes” or “No.” In the space below each statement, briefly describe your reasoning.

Do you believe that these changes in love and marriage present a problem to our society? 

1) Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

2) People are getting married later than they used to; the median age at first marriage
is now 28 for men and 26 for women, compared to 23 and 20 in 1960. 

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

3) The proportion of adults who never marry remains low but is climbing; in 2006, 19%
of men and 13% of women aged 40-44 had never married.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

4) Unmarried cohabitation has gone from a socially stigmatized practice to a normal
 stage in the adult life course (more than half of all American marriages now
begin as cohabitations).

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

5) Roughly one-third of all births are to unmarried parents.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

6) Today, people feel freer to marry later, to end unhappy marriages, and to forego
marriage altogether.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

7) Americans have established a pattern of high marriage and remarriage rates,
frequent divorce and separation, and more short-lived cohabitations. 

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________

8) Straight women are more likely to rate faithfulness and lifelong commitment as
 extremely important compared to straight men and sexual minorities.

Problem? Yes   or     No
Why? __________________________________________________________________________ 

Based on your responses above, which position described in the article do you most
 agree with? Circle one.
     1. The marital decline position, which argues that changes in intimacy are a significant cause for concern. OR
    2. The marital resilience perspective, which, in contrast, argues that changes in family life have actually strengthened the quality of intimate relationships, including marriages.
After you have finished, discuss your responses with a small group of classmates. Does your group agree?

This active learning activity was written by Amy Alsup, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota.  Amy wrote the activity to accompany “Community Organizing and Social Change” by Randy Stoecker (Contexts, Winter 2009).


You are a community organizer working to address some major social problems in your community.  Read the scenario below and answer the questions with your group members.  For Question #3, use the supplies given to you to create posters with slogans.


You live in a large urban neighborhood in Minneapolis that is strongly stratified by class.  The houses on the Southern side of your neighborhood are quite dilapidated, crime is rampant, vital businesses and jobs are scarce, and the neighborhood is in need of revitalization.   Most people in this section of the neighborhood make a median income below the poverty line.  The Northern side of the neighborhood is more affluent.  There are numerous businesses within walking distance, crime has generally remained minimal, and there is a Neighborhood Watch program in place.

Recently, the local news media has exposed an upsurge in crime in the entire neighborhood.  A housing crisis is occurring, drug use in the community is extensive and progressively visible, and the school district is in shambles after dropout rates have surged and teacher retention has dwindled.   Community members on both the Northern and Southern ends of the neighborhood have increasingly expressed concern about the state of their community.  There is a neighborhood organization in place; but all regular members are upper-middle class, and most neighborhood projects and initiatives focus on beautifying the Northern section of town.

Community members from the Southern part of town have recently expressed anger and frustration about their lack of status in community operations.  Local government representatives are deliberating on whether or not to install a community policing program in the community or to explore other options.  The housing crisis is becoming a wide-scale dilemma, now affecting the middle class and not simply impoverished community members.  All families are concerned about the poor resources in their schools and the lack of quality educators.  The existing neighborhood group now realizes that they have a crucial role in rallying ALL community members to address the various problems facing the community, and they must come up with some solutions before the upcoming community meeting.

Worksheet: Community Organizing & Social Change

(1) List the social problems in the order in which you will address them. (There are 10 spaces, but if you identify more or less than this, feel free to add or subtract spaces).

1. _____________________________________________

2. _____________________________________________

3. _____________________________________________

4. ____________________________________________

5. ____________________________________________

6. ____________________________________________

7. ____________________________________________

8. ____________________________________________

9. ____________________________________________

10. ___________________________________________

(2) Why did you decide to address social problems in this particular order?  Explain your rationale for choosing the first social problem.  Why does is this problem top priority?  Why is the last concern you listed a lower priority?


(3)  Use the poster board and markers to create slogans to generate support for your cause.  List the slogans you use in the space below.




(4)  Why did you choose these slogans?  Do they appeal to emotions, humor, or moral shocks?


(5)  What strategies and tactics will you use to spread your message?  Will your tactics center on protest, direct action, education, garnering media attention, etc.— or a combination of these activities? Did your group choose strategies and tactics within or outside of societal norms and institutionalized means?  Were tactics legal or illegal?


(6) List your affiliates and opponents.  With which organizations, community groups, social movements, and politicians will you align?  Which groups will you oppose?  Name movement resources (ie: networks, affiliated organizations, money sources, and advocates) from which you will draw.


Instructor/Facilitator Directions: (Detach before handing out to students)

Directions: Have students divide into groups of 5 people.  Give the groups one worksheet per group and assign the group member roles as follows: one recorder, two reporters, one time-keeper, and one creative director.  The creative director will be responsible for making posters with slogans with the poster board and markers provided to each group.  Each group will act as community organizers who desire to address the dire conditions of the neighborhood. At the beginning of the class period, you may choose to assign each group different strategies and tactics to help provoke debate or allow group members to choose their own.

Have group members read the vignette and answer the questions on the worksheet.  Allow group members 15-20 minutes of class time to organize a plan of action.

Then, in a simulation of a community meeting, act as a facilitator.  Allow members of each group to take turns presenting social issues of primary concern, networks, resources, slogans and plans of action. Then, initiate a debate on these issues.  Let each group present the social issues of primary importance and their strategies and tactics to address these issues first.  Then, ask each group to defend their positions.  Have students share slogans and explain who they consider to be allies and who they consider to be opponents.  The debate and discussion will end when each group has shared their approach.

This case study can be used with Julie E. Artis’s “Breastfeed at Your Own Risk.”  The article, which appeared in Contexts in Fall 2009, can be read online here.

At the age of 38, Monique gave birth to her fourth child, a daughter named Kayla. Kayla was born with severe developmental and physical disabilities. As Kayla grew older, Monique and her husband tried diligently to get her the help she needed in order to maximize her development. They put her in speech and physical therapy programs and brought her to many health specialists. Caring for Kayla was expensive and time consuming. All of the doctors and specialists Monique talked to told her she needed to spend more time helping Kayla one-on-one; but Monique couldn’t afford to stay at home, and she and her husband each spent more than 50 hours a week at work. Kayla was cared for during the day by a nurse who came to Monique’s home, but after 5:00 p.m. Monique was responsible for her care.

As Kayla grew older, Monique began to fall behind at work and spend less time caring for her three older children. Monique could tell they were resentful of Kayla for this. Kayla required constant supervision and needed help eating, changing clothes and using the bathroom. Kayla became easily frustrated and had trouble sleeping, which kept Monique up many nights. Monique was often discouraged and irritated and felt less happy overall. When Kayla was 5 years old, Monique became pregnant again. Overwhelmed at the prospect of caring for Kayla, her three other children and a newborn baby, Monique considered other options. She found out about a live-in care center about 3 hours away from her home that specialized in taking care of children with disabilities. Monique thought that the care center would be a better home for Kayla than her own. She thought the nurses and the teachers at the center would help Kayla more than she could.

But, the center was very expensive and paying for Kayla to live there until age 18 would prevent Monique from helping any of her other children with their college tuition someday. Also, many of the specialists had told Monique that Kayla might be better off if her mother cared for her. Monique considered the negative things other people would think of her if she brought her daughter to live at the care center instead of caring for her in the home. But, she also considered how much better her life and the lives of her other children might be if they did not have the responsibility of caring for Kayla on a daily basis. She would have more time for her other children and more time to develop her career.

Discussion Questions:

1) If you were in Monique’s shoes, what would you do?

2) What do you think a mother’s role is in this situation?

3) What responsibilities do the larger community and the government have with respect to childcare?  Do they have these same responsibilities regarding childcare for disabled children?

The following case study was written by Wen Fan.  Wen is pursuing her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Minnesota and wrote the case study to accompany “Autism, Through a Social Lens” by Stephen Poulson (Contexts, Spring 2009).

The purpose of this case study is to provide you with an opportunity to examine how social inequality manifests itself in the diagnosis and treatment of autism.

Read the following case study and answer the questions.  Be prepared to talk about your answers in small groups.

Robin is the son of Kathleen, a Filipino immigrant, and Tom, an immigrant from Jordan. Since Robin was three years old, his mother Kathleen had been aware of his difficulties. He was not talking, making eye contact or showing interest in other children. However, many of Tom’s Jordanian family members told her, “He’s fine. Boys develop slower than girls.” Kathleen and her Filipino family knew something was wrong, but the word for autism doesn’t even exist in either of the two cultures. Despite several visits to professionals to express her concerns, diagnosis of autism was not suggested as an explanation of Robin’s difficulties (perhaps due to Kathleen’s poor English).

During Robin’s time in Kindergarten, Kathleen was frequently called in by teachers who complained about his anti-social behavior. The teachers said that he needed to be taught appropriate social skills, but Kathleen already devoted hours teaching Robin how to share and to recognize the feelings of others. All of these efforts failed, though. At primary school, reports from teachers continued to be negative. He was described as inattentive, lazy, defiant and insolent.

Finally, when Robin was nine, a psychiatrist diagnosed him as autistic.  Kathleen and Tom were relieved at first as the blame was lifted from both their son and themselves. They could now start to make sense of Robin’s problems and devise solutions.  However, the diagnosis did not solve all of the problems coming from Tom’s family.  Their culture did not recognize diseases like autism, and special education was highly stigmatized.

Pragmatically, Kathleen and Tom faced an even bigger challenge.  According to the psychiatrist, Robin would need at least 25 hours of direct contact per week with a trained therapist for a minimum of two years. However, autism is not covered by most health insurance providers; and given the high costs of the intervention programs, many schools do not provide therapy for autistic children. In fact, the school where Robin studied simply refused to identify Robin as autistic because officials regarded the cost of providing services as too expensive.  As a result, the family had to move to another school district that had established autism programs. However, tuition that included his 25-hour-per-week therapy cost $88,000 per academic year, far beyond what the family could afford.  Luckily, Filipinos have a culture of sacrificing individual desires for the benefit of the family. Therefore, Kathleen and Tom have received much financial support from Kathleen’s extended family. Nevertheless, Kathleen finally made a tough decision in order to better care for Robin–quit her job.


  1. Robin was diagnosed with autism relatively late and thus missed the most effective early interventions. What contributed to this late diagnosis?
  2. How do cultural traditions, values and beliefs affect peoples’ attitudes toward autism? Would there be any difference if this happened in your family?
  3. To some extent, Robin is lucky because he can afford the cost for the therapy. According to a Harvard School of Public Health study published in 2007, it typically costs $3.2 million to raise an autistic child into adulthood, compared with $290,000 to raise a neurotypical child. How would this affect people’s access to treatment, and what should our society do to address this issue?
  4. In this story, who is responsible for the task of taking care of Robin? If you were Kathleen or Tom, would you make the same decision? Why or why not?