Topics in Sociological Theory
Prof. Laurie Essig
Soan 305 Fall 2013 Tues/Thurs 3-4:15
Office: Chellis 202 Location: RCD B11
Tues 9-10:30 & Wed 1:30-3 or by appointment
This may be the most useful course you will ever take. Even if you do not think that now, you will by the end of the course. Anything that requires explanation- from politics to poverty, from pornography to pop music- can be examined through the theoretical lenses that sociologists have constructed. The purpose of this course is to give you a variety of theoretical lenses with which you can look at the world and your place in it. Think of it like going to the eye doctor. Some lenses will put the social world in sharper focus for you; others will make it blurry and even more difficult to understand.
In this course, we’ll consider what happened in sociological theory since its inception over a century ago. We will trace how the founding paradigms of sociology were developed, combined, ignored, and even subverted by more contemporary theorists. By doing this, you will learn how to apply theory to everyday life in a variety of ways, from writing analytical papers to more creative endeavors, like zines or websites, documentary films and board games.
Papers: There are 4 papers required in this class (described below). Each one is 3-5pp (15% each). Papers = 60%.
Group Project: In addition, each student must work with a group to produce a final project that utilizes theory. You are encouraged to use theory in an unexpected way (e.g. to make art or propaganda or entertainment). These projects must use at least two of the authors we’ve discussed. Presentations should be 10-15 minutes long and should include images, sounds, and/or movement (i.e. this should not be a strictly analytical project). In addition to class presentations, each of you must hand in a 2-3 pp summary of why certain theorists were chosen and not others as well as an estimate of how much time you yourself put into the group project. In-class presentation = 15%; Write-up 5%. Total for Group Project = 20%.
Participation & Reading Notes: This is a seminar-style course and I expect everyone to participate. You are expected to come to class having read the authors and willing and able to discuss them. I will collect reading notes every day we have class. Participation and reading notes are 20% of your grade.
Reading notes cannot be handed in late (since the point is to make sure we’re all reading them in time for class). The best way to do reading notes is to just write down interesting terms and quotes (with page numbers). That way you can use them to write your papers for this class. You are also welcome to just write down questions/don’t understand/what does the author mean by this as well. The point is to show you’ve done the reading even if you didn’t fully understand it. We will figure it out in class together. Please feel free to email you your notes if you prefer not to print out a hardcopy but electronic notes are due before class, not after.
Books at Bookstore:
Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle
Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought
Other readings on blog at
A short note on the importance of being here: I do not take attendance in this class. You can lead a student to theory but… However, if you do come, then I expect you to be here. That means no computers- seriously. Feel free to take notes by hand, doodle, knit, or whatever else you need to do to focus. But I do not allow computers in my class since nearly everyone taking notes on them is also answering emails, Facebooking or watching the next really cute kitten video. The point is, if I can’t watch that really cute kitten video or send a tweet during class, then neither can you.
9/10 Introduction: A Theoretical Life
9/12 READ: C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination at www.lclark.edu/~goldman/socimagination.html and *Norbert Elias, What is Sociology, pp. 13-32.
9/17 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction, pp. 1-96
9/19 Bourdieu, pp. 99-256.
9/24 Bourdieu, pp. 257-317, 466-485.
9/26 ***Loic Wacquant, Chapter 1 and Chapter 7 in Punishing the Poor and ***Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow.
10/1 Guy Dubord, Society of the Spectacle, pp. 11-90
10/3 Guy Dubord, Society of the Spectacle, pp. 91-154.
Paper#1 Due: Using the key concepts of post-marxian theorists (e.g. habitus, social capital, doxa, hegemony, discipline, dialectic, capital, spectacle, etc.), think through reality TV shows like “Honey Boo Boo.” Who has a taste for reality TV? Which shows and why? Who does not and what does a distaste for reality TV have to say about cultural, social, and economic capital? What sort of spectacle is it and what would Dubord have to say?
10/8* Norbert Elias, A History of Manners, the Civilizing Process, volume I, pp.53-84; bottom of 84-168 (skim this section on evidence from books on manners)
10/10 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 3-134.
10/15 Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 135-194.
10/17 Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 195-308.
And * Foucault, A History of Sexuality, volume 1., pp 1-74.
10/22 Fall Break No Class
10/24 *** Micki McGee, Self Help Inc.
Paper #2 Due: Using the most important concepts of post-weberian theory (discipline vs. punishment, civility vs. courtesy, control, confession, subjugation and subjectivity, etc.) think about the recent sex scandals to rock US politics. How can you use post-Weberian theory to think about Anthony Weiner’s mayoral run and then implosion of his campaign?
10/29 * Erving Goffman, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, pp. 1-76; 208-237.
10/31 ***Jeffrey Alexander, The Meanings of Social Life, pp. 3-108.
11/5 ***Alexander 108-178
11/7 ***Alexander 179-228
11/12 ***Jackie Orr, Panic Diaries.
Paper #3 Due: Using the most important concepts of post-durkheimian theory (structure, functionalism -and dysfunction or panic, ritual, symbolic, and performance) consider “Halloween” as a cultural form worth investigating. What are the elementary forms that structure it? What rituals are involved? How do we perform both our selves and social structures through the rituals of Halloween and how might that be functional (or not?).
11/14 Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought, p. 1-122.
11/19 Hill Collins, pp. 122-226.
11/21 Thanksgiving Break
11/26 Hill Collins, pp. 227-290 and * Siobhan Somerville, Queering the Color Line, Intro and Chapter 1.
Paper #4 Due: Using the most important developments of post-duboisian theory (e.g. duality, “intersectionality,” the creation and performance of the color line) analyze President Obama. What do post-duboisian theorists have to teach us about how race and other forms of power circulate around our President?
11/28 Group Project Presentations
12/3 Group Project Presentations
12/5 Group Project Presentations
Final project write up due on 12/14 by 4pm in Sociology Office 201 Munroe or emailed to email@example.com