The NonViolence Project takes its symbol from a sculpture inspired by the shooting death of John Lennon. Photo via
The NonViolence Project takes its symbol from a sculpture inspired by the shooting death of John Lennon. Photo via

Horrible events, such as mass shootings, typically gain a lot of media attention, with fear and political outrage not far behind. Social scientific knowledge about topics like violence, gun control, and mental illness, however, is often obscured or excluded from these reports and calls for action. This activity, which can be done as a group or individually, helps readers think about how social scientific evidence can influence policy:

  1. Browse the Internet to gather two or three news stories from the weeks following a recent mass shooting in the United States.
  2. What claims are made in these stories about the causes of mass shootings?
  3. What calls for change are made by victims’ families, politicians, experts, or others?
  4. What policies are suggested to address mass shootings?

Next, read “A Broader-Based Response to Shootings” by Chis Uggen and think about how social science evidence compares to media reports. What does the evidence suggest we should be doing to address these crimes?

Office Hours sat down with  Catherine Squires to discuss her September 2012 article in American QuarterlyColoring in the Bubble: Perspectives from Black-Oriented Media on the (Latest) Economic Disaster. This is a great podcast to keep on hand for use in any class on race relations or any discussion on the recent economic crisis.

In this podcast, Squires explains how people of color were scapegoated by the mainstream media in responding to the sub prime mortgage crisis. Squires then explores how three publications that are targeted to African Americans or people of color more generally responded to this crisis. The podcast is a great discussion of  how neoliberalism and notions of “post-racialism” allow for stereotypes of people of color to remain unexamined and allow people of color to be scapegoated for social problems, even in this case of obvious fraud by lending companies.

We recommend the following discussion questions and activity to get students engaged with this topic:

1. How does Squires define “neoliberalism”? Were you familiar with this political philosophy before listening to this interview? Have you recognized the elements of neoliberalism in political discussions recently?

2. How does Squires define “post-racialism”? Were you familiar with this ideology before listening to this interview? Have you seen this ideology expressed by politicians? by your family and friends?

3. In what ways did Squires find that people of color were blamed for the sub prime crisis?

4. According to Squires, how did the ideologies of neoliberalism and post-racialism lend support to the blaming of people of color (instead of focusing on racist practices by the lending companies)?

5. Take a look at the three news outlets that Squires examines in this paper: Black EnterpriseThe Root, and Colorlines.  Take a few minutes to look over each site. How do they seem similar and different? According to Squires, how did each of the news sources respond differently to the economic crisis?

6. Is Squires optimistic that these news sources created by and for people of color have the ability to challenge dominant narratives about people of color? Why or why not?

We just got the pager network up at #SeaSides BBQ


TSP’s Kyle Green recently spoke with Mary Joyce about digital activism.  This short podcast would be great in a class on media, transnational activism, or a variety of other topics.  Most, if not all, students will be able to connect to the material, making it relevant to their everyday lives and a great addition to a lecture.  Here are some questions to accompany the podcast.


  1. What is digital activism?
  2. Have you participated in anything that could be considered digital activism recently?  Did you consider your participation as “activism” at the time?
  3. What are the strengths of digital activism?  Can you think of any pitfalls?
  4. As a related post on our sister blog, Cyborgology, points out, the United Nations declared that disconnecting people from the Internet violates their human rights.  Do you think access to the Internet should be a human right?  Why or why not?

Note that the project’s website also has some tools that could be utilized for the lecture, including a visual summary of their preliminary findings.


Bad News on the Doorstep

The TSP blog, Citings & Sightings, tracks sociologists and other social scientists whose work makes it into the news.   This activity draws upon this concept and gets students thinking about the public impact of sociology. 

1) Browse to and read several examples of citings.

2) Then, search for a news story that cites a sociologist.  If you get stuck, try google news and search for the terms “sociologist” or “sociology.”

3) Using the Citings & Sightings blog as a model, write your own “citing” for the article you found.

Students could bring their citings to class and share them in groups or as a class.  Then, the groups or your class could discuss the following questions:

1) In your opinion, what makes the article, or the research cited, newsworthy?

2)  Why was a sociologist particularly suited to comment on the article?

3)  What unique contribution did sociology bring to the article?

4) Do you see many sociologists in the news?  Why do you think this is the case?

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.

Film Real (57/365)

I ran across this wonderful resource written by Jon Smajda a number of years ago.  Some of it is a little dated, but it’s a great compilation of resources for media in the classroom.  

In the 7th grade, I had this really terrible teacher who would show movies about once or twice a week. He’d sit in the back of class and read the newspaper and my friends and I would pass notes, draw caricatures of the teacher, or simply make plans for after school: anything but actually watch the movie.

Unfortunately, this is (more or less) the image most people have in their heads of showing movies in class: a day off for both the teacher and the students. Of course, many of us show hour-long films in our classes and our students manage to avoid spitball fights and get a lot out of the film. This is one advantage of teaching college students and not 7th graders.

However, there are other options for using videos in class. For instance, short film clips can be a great way to illustrate a concept or to start discussion. Back in the old days when we had to haul around the A/V cart to show a video in class, it wasn’t necessarily worth the effort just to show a two minute clip. However, now that all our classrooms are hopefully equipped with projectors, DVD players and laptop adapters, it may be time to rethink the ways we can utilize video in teaching.

Television in the classroom

Television series are a standard that highlight both contemporary and historical social trends in an organized and narrative fashion, making them ideal for use within the classroom. Whereas other types of filmed media (such as feature length films and documentaries) are often too long to show during a single classroom period, episodes or segments from a television series are usually short enough to be played in their entirety, thus preserving the director’s intended messages while still leaving time for lecture and classroom discussion. Additionally, each episode or segment often represents a completely new theme or issue, allowing for instructors to return to television series that students are familiar with and were also successful in promoting student engagement in the past.

Video Sources

In addition to simply bringing in DVDs and showing short clips that illustrate sociological concepts or could serve as a springboard for further discussions or debate, here are some other sources to try out:

iTunes Podcasts – If you download iTunes and go to the iTunes Store, there’s a “Podcasting” section and within that there’s a section for Video Podcasts. A lot of news organizations and other semi-serious outlets are producing free video podcasts of their content.

Hulu – is an effort by NBC & Fox to make their TV shows available for free online & there’s a lot there: from new TV shows to an archive of lots of old TV shows and many full-length movies. You cannot download the movies, which is a shame, but you can embed the clips into your own website and there’s a cool feature where you can set which portion of the clip plays in your embedded instance of the clip, which is very cool if you wanted to, say, embed a clip on your class website and only want your students to focus on one part of the clip.

Network TV – Hulu is good for NBC & Fox shows, but an increasing number of shows on CBS ( and ABC ( are freely available for online viewing.

PBS Frontline – – Dozens of episodes of Frontline available for free viewing online.

Joost – – Kind of like Hulu, but not as cool or as user-friendly.

YouTube – Obviously, there’s YouTube. Google video tends to have more serious/professional stuff, whereas youtube has more homemade videos. – A growing collection of videos online by google. Search for anything – see what you can find. (You can download most clips to your hard drive as well.)

TED Talks – – About TED: “TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader. The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public, for free. Almost 150 talks from our archive are now available, with more added each week. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.”

Miro – – Miro is a free, open source video application that is integrated with thousands of free video feeds from all over the internet. It’s sort of like iTunes and the iTunes store, only everything is free. – You guessed it, free documentaries online. – This site is a massive collection of free online video, audio and text. Within the video section, there are some subcollections that may be of interest to some of you:

“The Beat Within” – – video diaries of young people inside the California prison system.

“Shaping San Francisco” – – A “participatory social history of San Francisco.” Short films covering many aspects of the city and its history.

“Cinemocracy” – – a collection of 1940s pro-war propaganda films, by some of the best directors of the time and commissioned by the US government directly.

“Mosaic Middle East News” – – collection of television news clips from throughout the Middle East, translated into English.

“Media Burn” – – “over 3000 hours of material reflecting historical, political and social reality as seen by independent producers from 1972 to 2002, almost entirely without a narrator or news announcer. It is a major dose of American studies, media history and electronic literacy.”

Movie Trailers – – Movie trailers provide short, but information-packed, previews of movies that can be fascinating when put under a sociological microscope. Whether you’re interested in representations of race, gender or class or in consumerism and marketing, movie trailers often offer quick, fun examples.

Old TV Commercials – – A collection of old commercials from the 1980s, with an especially large collection of advertising directed at children.

Richard Beach’s Teaching Media site – – Beach is a professor in the U’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction and he’s written a textbook on how to teach media literacy. This is his website for the book, and it’s full of links to video materials as well as ideas for how to integrate them into your classes. For example, Modules 4, 5 and 6 introduce critical approaches to interpreting media representations and advertising, while Module 7 discusses how to talk about the role of ideology in various film genres.

Comedy Central – – Comedy Central puts a lot of video clips from their shows online. Many, of course, are probably useless in the classroom, but some of their shows frequently have some clever social commentary, such as The Daily Show,, and The Colbert Report –

Media Education Foundation – – Contains short preview videos to most of their videos.


We recommend incorporating the article “Controlling the Media in Iraq” by Andrew M. Linder (Contexts, Spring 2008) in a class or lesson on media or international relations. This article is highly readable and the topic is timely and of interest to undergraduates. Use the questions below to get a discussion started on this topic:

A PDF of this entire article is available from Contexts!


1)    How has this article influenced your understanding of the relationship between journalism and war?

2)    The author offers two ideas of how embedded reporters come to write from a military point of view. Discuss the theories of empathy through socialization (at the extreme, Stockholm Syndrome) versus boundaries and limitations placed by the military.

3)    What do you make of the findings that embedded journalists reported more frequently from a soldier’s point of view?

Lady Gaga

For the most recent issue of Contexts (Spring 2010), our culture editor David Grazian sat down with journalist and novelist Chuck Klosterman to discuss pop culture from a sociological standpoint. While this is not the traditional type of article for classroom use, we believe it could spark a good discussion among students about sociological understandings of popular culture in their own worlds. This activity would be particularly useful in a Media and Culture class or an Intro class.

For this activity, students should either read the edited exchange “Glam Metal and Guilty Pleasures: Sailing Away with Chuck Klosterman and David Grazian” or listen to segments of the interview (Part 1 & Part 2) online.

With their new sociological outlook on popular culture, have the students pick a facet of pop culture or a cultural phenomenon that is of sociological interest and that they are particularly interested in (e.g. Lady Gaga’s latest video, The Biggest Loser, pop-country music, America’s Next Top Model, video games, American Idol, Jersey Shore, Glee, Twitter, celebrities’ extra-marital affairs, and the list goes on…).   You can give students latitude in choosing which element of pop culture to explore. Then, have them interview at least one person they know (friend, roommate, sibling, parent, etc.) about their chosen cultural phenomenon. Students could then write a reflection of the interview or share what took place during the interview in groups during class.

This learning activity was written by Jasmine Harris-LaMothe, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota Sociology department, to accompany “Roll Over Beethoven, There’s A New Way to Be Cool” by Richard A. Peterson in Contexts Summer 2001.

For generations, preference for “high” culture included an interest in cultural mediums not readily available to the masses and signified a marked difference between the elites and everyone else. Today, “elite” status requires a familiarity with more – not just higher – forms of culture. This has significantly changed the way fine arts are depicted in the media and thus understood by the public.

Fill out the questionnaire below on your demographic information and your taste in fine arts. After you’ve completed the questions, turn to the neighbor and discuss your answers.

1.     Male or Female
2.     Age
3.     Where is your hometown?

Answer never, rarely, sometimes, or often to the questions below:

4.     How often do you read a book for pleasure? ___________

5.     How often do you go to the movies?__________

6.     How often do you read a newspaper?___________

7.     How often do you watch the news on television?____________

8.     How often do you watch other types of live (non-DVRed) television?_____________

9.     When was the last time you visited an art museum?____________

10.  When was the last time you visited the theater?_____________

Provide your top three answers to the questions below:

11.  Who are your favorite musical artists?

12.  What are your favorite musical genres?

13.  What are your favorite plays?

14.  What are your favorite ballets?

15.  What are your favorite operas?


  • Are you and/or your partner cultural “omnivores” or “univores?”
  • Are your tastes reflective of your demographic information?
  • Do you think your answers are reflective of changes in medium preferences among the greater population?
  • What implications do the aforementioned changes in medium likes/dislikes have for the future of mass media as a whole?
  • This case study was written by Jasmine Harris LaMothe, a sociology Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota.  It should be paired with “Do Video Games Kill?” by Karen Sternheim (Contexts Fall 2006).  As always, here is the pdf as well. 

    A masked 18-year-old man stormed Mayberry High School on last Monday in the North Carolina town of Mayberry, killing 14 and wounding as many as 57 people before killing himself. You were in class when the barrage of gunfire began and luckily escaped unharmed because your teacher locked the door in your windowless classroom before the gunman tried to enter. A few of your friends, including your best friend and neighbor, were among the 14 killed when the gunman opened fire on the students eating lunch in the cafeteria.

    The young man, identified only as Robert B., was known to authorities and due in court on Tuesday for weapons violations, local police said. According to media reports, he had a fondness for war simulation and computer games. You can personally attest to this as you have had numerous conversations with Robert over the past year regarding your common love for war-themed video games. In fact, you’ve even been to his house to play and never noticed anything strange.  In fact, Robert was pretty well liked among his peers.

    The autopsy report indicated high levels of illegal narcotics in Robert’s system. The school guidance counselor reported that Robert had been having difficulty with his parents’ recent divorce but never exhibited behavior to cause concern that he might harm himself or others.  He often talked about his video game play, but he never talked about it in way that seemed obsessive or out of touch with reality. All-in-all, this outburst of violence came as a complete shock. 

    The families of the victims have filed a class action suit against the video game company that manufactures the games Robert (and you) played and have personally requested that you testify against the company in a court of law to highlight the excessive violence of the games and the negative impact they may have on already emotionally or mentally fragile youth. The families are hoping this lawsuit will result in a hefty monetary penalty but also a potential state or nationwide ban on games that simulate gratuitous killing.

    1. Would you testify against the video game manufacturer? If so, what would you say?
    2. Should video game manufacturers shoulder some of the blame when youths commit violent attacks that mirror those from their games?
    3. How has the media shaped public opinion on violent video games?
    4. Is this public opinion warranted? Why or why not?