Course Description

Every day we make sense of our world by formulating simple sociological theories about why people do the things they do, about the forces that hold our society together, and about its major problems. This course seeks to nurture the amateur social theorist lurking inside all of us, to allow us to make clearer judgements, predictions, decisions, and, ultimately, to build better theories.

To do this, we will examines the human condition from the standpoint of sociological thought. Students will learn to engage issues facing the world today by asking classic sociological questions. Ultimately, the course material constructs “the individual” as a product and constituent of large scale structural forces and historical developments—modernity, capitalism, the state, rationality, classes, families, races, genders, etc. Sociologists do not have all of the answers. But the discipline offers the most ambitious range of social theories in all the social sciences. And yet, even these grand academic theories, many of which we will examine this semester, are built upon our simple, everyday intuitions that many ordinary people already have. As it is an introductory course, we explore these ideas through a dialogue with the founding giants of modern social theory: Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, W.E.B Du Bois, and others. However, by exploring recent texts and currents events, students will learn to see the relevance of these classical ideas today. In fact, one of the main strengths of this class is that it allows us the chance to make sense of our current moment, and how it differs from the past. What changed, in other words, to make the world modern? Overall, you should leave this course closer to the edge of your understanding than when we began. You will have a few new lenses with which to analyze the world, and an appreciation for how sociologists think.

Class Environment

You are expected to attend every class and out-of-class event. Come fully caffeinated, prepared to discuss readings and join group discussions. Class participation means you regularly attend class and take part in meaningful ways. Since critical dialogue is probably where most learning happens anyway, this should be in our mutual interests. Learning is a conspiracy, a group activity where we work, play, plot, and debate together. Students should be prepared to take notes without laptops. Cell phones, laptops, and all other non-airplane-approved devices must be switched off. At the end of this syllabus is an addendum that describes helpful communication tips between professors and students when you have questions outside of class.

In our discussion sections, set yourself goals to participate in ways that challenge your habits and usual modus operandi. You are encouraged to have an opinion, be audacious, act out, and risk your pride (what you risk shows what you value). Please bring a written question for discussion to every time your section meets. We will use those questions as the basis for our discussions in your sections.


You will complete two short analytic projects in response to particular readings and take one in- class written exam. There will also be a final project where you will create your own exam. You will have the option to do one analytic project in a non-traditional format. Talk to me well in advance if  this option interests you. I will give you more specific information on the details of each of these assignments when the time comes.

A Note on Written Work

Written work is the primary way you will be evaluated, and your writing will be graded according to its readability, grammatical accuracy, and creativity, in addition to the substantive ideas it conveys.

We will discuss the challenges posed by sociological writing, but if you have any concerns about your writing ability, please see me and consider visiting the CTLR: academics/resources/ctlr


Your grades come from the assignments stated above, plus class participation. Class participation is derived from a combination of attendance, frequency of participation in class discussions, and observed struggle to engage the material. Late work is lowered half a grade for the first week late, and then a full grade the week after. My overall philosophy on grading emphasizes struggle, not mastery. The breakdown is as follows:

One Theory Paper 25 %

One In-Class Exam 25 %

One Reflection Paper 20 %

One Final 20 %

Class Participation 10 %

A – Outstanding: Expectations exceeded.

B – Excellent: All expectations met with excellence.

C – Good: All expectations met with moderate success. D – Poor: Expectations inconsistently met.

F – Failure: Work incomplete by culmination of the course.

Most students can expect to receive a grade in the B range, as A’s at Middlebury are generally reserved for outstanding work above and beyond high expectations. If you object to a grade you receive, email me a detailed explanation as to why you think the grade should be changed. In that email, also include a few times when you can meet me as soon as possible to discuss the matter further.

Honor Code and Academic Integrity

The Middlebury Honor Code forbids cheating and plagiarism. For details on what constitutes these breaches of conduct, please see Middlebury policy here: academics/administration/newfaculty/handbook/honorcode

Failure to abide such regulations will result in my notifying the proper college authorities. The academy is not known for its sense of humor, but plagiarism is truly no joke. For information on how to avoid plagiarizing, see Ear Babbie’s article: plagiarism.htm

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