Course Description

Course Description

This class examines the past, present and future lives of working people. It takes a panoramic view of the sociological literature on work, labor, and labor movements. As a survey course, it will introduce important themes and concepts, and raise more questions than it answers. Our readings will cover four general themes in order. The first centers on the nature of work and the labor process; the second on an analysis of social class and class formation. The third theme focuses on the labor movement and other modes of class-based organization. Finally, we go back to the future and examine the future of work, building on material from the entire semester. It is designed as an introduction to the field that will inspire deeper curiosity and more rigorous analysis. The course builds on key debates raised in classical and contemporary social theory—the point of work, the nature of class, the organization of work lives, the division of labor, inequality, collective action, etc. However, there are more particular questions raised within Labor Sociology that are also of concern here: Why is the US working class so weak? Where do social classes come from? How have workers’ lives changed over the past two centuries? Are unions obsolete? (Spoiler: no.) Why work?

Class Participation

You are expected to attend every class and out-of-class event. Come fully caffeinated, prepared to discuss readings and join group discussions. You are encouraged to have an opinion, be audacious, and risk your pride. 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 and all other non-airplane-approved devices must be switched off.


You will write short papers in response to particular readings and themes. Your mid-term exam will ask you to apply concepts in the class to real-life, including popular culture, current events, other classes, etc. At the end of the semester you will create your own exam for your final grade. I will give you more specific information on the details of each of these assignments when the time comes. More information on all assignments will be covered throughout the semester.


Your grades come from the assignments stated above, plus class participation. Class participation is derived from a combination of attendance, frequency and quality of participation in class discussions, the competency of your five minute introduction, and observed struggle to engage the material. Late work is lowered half a grade for the first week late, and is not accepted thereafter. The course emphasizes writing as the primary mechanism to determine grades and outcomes. My overall philosophy on grading emphasizes struggle, not mastery. In other words, as befits a course on “labor,” hard work pays off. You may choose to do an alternative project in place of the standard assignment. talk to me well in advance to discuss your proposal. The grade breakdown is as follows:

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. 

First paper 25%

Midterm 25%

Group Projects 25%

Final 10%

Class participation 15%

If you object to a grade you receive in class, email me a detailed explanation as to why you think the grade should be changed. In that email, also include a few suggested times when you can meet me in person as soon as possible to discuss the matter further. 

Assignments on the date and time indicated on the syllabus or assignment sheet itself. Requests for extensions beyond the submission date should be made well before the due date. Grades on non-approved late submissions will be penalized one half a grade for the first week it is late, and a full letter grade if it is two weeks late. After two weeks late, the paper will no longer be accepted and you’ll receive a zero for that assignment. 

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:

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 Earl Babbie’s article:

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