That wayThe grand majority of  the undergrad students in our classes will not end up working in academia, and many will ask, “What can I do with a degree in Sociology?” We recommend our “Embedded Sociologists” feature–where Hollie and Kia, as well as Suzy Maves McElrath and Sarah Shannon take a closer look at sociologists who work outside of the academy–to help your students get a sense of a sociological perspective  and what a background in sociology can offer them in the job market.

We think this article would work well in an Intro class because it offers a rich description of how a sociological imagination can be used outside of the classroom in future careers. It would also be a good addition to a senior thesis class, for those students who want to go to graduate school, but may not want to work in academia. We hope this article will also be useful to graduate students thinking about taking an alternative path.

Read the full text online!

A few questions to get a discussion of this article started:

1) Were you surprised at the range of careers sociologists can have?

2) According to the sociologists interviewed in this article, how can the sociological imagination be used to address real-world problems and solutions?

3) What are some ways that you have used your sociological imagination outside of the classroom?

4) Why have academic sociologists and non-academic sociologists generally not worked together? According to the authors, what are the possible consequences of such a disconnect?


Undredal Church
Tensions between religion and science are not new.  Today, many people assume that scientists are athiests, but little is actually known about their religious and spiritual views.  To learn more, Elaine Howard Ecklund conducted a study of religion among scientists.  She explores the results of the study in the 2008 Contexts feature “Religion and Spirituality Among Scientists.”  Below are a few questions to accompany the article.

1)    Does the finding that scientists often hold religious views surprise you?  Would you assume it varies by discipline? Why or why not?

2)    Why do you think a greater proportion of scientists are atheists than the general population?

3)    Considering that 69% of social scientists surveyed identified as spiritual, how might you explain a reluctance to discuss religion in an academic setting?



Joel Best’s 2009 Contexts feature “Sociologists as Outliers” takes a look at how sociologists can learn from Malcom Gladwell’s ability to translate research to a wide audience.  In the classroom, students can discuss what sociology contributes to the understanding of social behavior and how we can make our contributions known.

1)    Pick a success in your life and identify the social factors that played a role in the chain of events that helped you succeed.

2)  The hockey league example illustrates that circumstances can change outcomes. Think of another example where structural forces shape individual outcomes and describe it briefly.

ACTIVITY: Find a news article on the web that quotes a sociologist (see our sister blog, Citings & Sightings).  Why was a sociologist particularly well-suited to comment on the topic of the article? What did sociology bring to the discussion that another field might not?


A group of sociologists recently revisited the controversial 1965 Moynihan Report.  Your students can read about it in the Fall 2009 Contexts feature “The Moynihan Report, A Retrospective” by Kate Ledger.  Below are some questions and an activity you can use in the classroom.


1) The Moynihan Report is available online at Read the introduction and describe how it compares with the image you had after reading the Contexts article. Which analysis do you find more compelling and/or enlightening?


2) According to this article, a number of sociologists think Moynihan would have had different ideas about black families had he studied class instead of race. Why would this be true?


3) When the Moynihan Report was leaked to the press 45 years ago, there was an outcry and social science about family, race, and inequality started to happen “under the radar.”  How can the media help or hinder social science research?


Activity: Use or a comparable source to find a press release on a social scientific study that sounds interesting. Read the press release and the original article (your school’s library website will help you find the original) and compare them. Does the press release do the article justice? What parts of the original research seem overlooked? Do any seem overhyped?




We recommend using these discussion questions and activity with Ellen Berrey’s interesting and well-written article Sociology Finds Discrimination in the Law (read the full article for free here!) which appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Contexts.UnAmerican

1)    How would you define discrimination? How does your definition compare with a more formal, legal definition?

2)    The article states that sometimes people discriminate unintentionally. What are examples of unintentional discrimination?

3)    Based on what you learned from this article, what do you think should be done to rectify the effects of discrimination? Who should be responsible for taking action?


Explore the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website ( and read up about the different kinds of discrimination. Have you or someone you know been a victim of the types of discrimination described?


Escape cell, Alcatraz

In the Contexts feature “No Real Release” (Winter 2009), Jason Schnittker and Michael Massoglia explore the link between incarceration and health.  Below are some questions you can use with the article.  Also, check out some online content to accompany the article!

1)     Describe the ways that incarceration is linked to poor health and inadequate health care. In contrast, how is incarceration beneficial to the health of some prisoners?

2)    This article demonstrates how the stigma of incarceration can be “contagious” and affect how the children of ex-cons are seen and see themselves. What are some other stigmas that seem to rub off on friends and family?

3)    As you learned in the article, discrimination against ex-cons is legally sanctioned. Should it be? Why or why not?


ACTIVITY: Imagine that you are a social worker in a community where many former inmates return after leaving prison. What policies might you advocate to address the health needs of your community in light of prisoner re-entry? What resources would you need? What community leaders or organization would you need to enlist for support?



Connecting students’ lives and previous experiences to lessons is always a great way to capture attention.  “The Sociology of Bubbles” by Bruce G. Carruthers (Contexts, Summer 2009) explains the sociology of the economic meltdown, a topic that will surely be of interest to many students.

Here are some potential questions that you could use with article:

1)    Do you have any experience with the finance system in the U.S. (e.g., the stock market, school loans)? Has your experience been positive or negative?  If you have no experience, how do you think you will in the future?

2)    Has the economic recession changed your views of the financial system in this country? What consequences of the recession have you seen in your own life?

3)    Why do you think so many people invest in the stock market or borrow from banks when the risks are so high? What do you think this says about our culture?

4)    The author writes that economic inequality in this country is at levels not seen since the Great Depression. Based on what you learned from this article and your own knowledge, what are the social repercussions of such high economic inequality?




Olympic Moral Compass

Morality is a contentious topic both inside and outside of the academy.  In the Fall 2009 Contexts feature “The Good, the Bad, and the Social,”  Daniel Winchester and Steven Hitlin examine the sociology of morality and explain that every situation, no matter how brief or small, has a moral dimension.  And, our ideas of right and wrong are shaped by social forces.

When you assign the article, you could also assign a “morality test.”  Here are a few examples:

You could also assign this New York Times article that briefly explains the work of Jerry Burger, a Santa Clara University Psychologist who replicated Milgram’s study four decades later.

Use these questions with Simon J. Williams’ Winter 2011 Contexts Feature, “Our Hard Days’ Nights.”

1.   It may be surprising to read that sociologists study sleep.  How is sleep social, and what does sociology have to offer the study of sleep?

2.  The author repeatedly refers to sleep as a “right.”  Similarly, Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts the right to rest and leisure.  How is sleep a right?  What does this mean, and do you agree with this classification?

3.  The article discusses Modafinil and other wakefulness-promoting drugs that are already being used by the military to combat drowsiness.  Discuss the pros and cons of drugs like Modafinil.



The questions and activity below can be used with “Key Findings from 50 Years of Medical Sociology,” by Katherine J. Rosich and Janet R. Hankin (Contexts, Fall 2010).  This article could also be paired with Theda Skocpol’s “One Thing I Know” on health care reform from the Winter 2011 issue of Contexts.
  1. How do the authors portray the American health care system at the start of the 21st century?
  2. The article suggests that asking questions about definitions (like “what is illness”) enables us to explore and understand the impact of definitions.  Write your personal definition of health.  Then, examine the World Health Organization’s definition of health.  How does your definition compare?  How might different ways of defining health impact how it’s understood and treated?
  3. Activity:  Hold a debate about universal health care.  Assign students to argue for or against universal health care and assign research for the debate as homework.