How do issues come to be seen as social problems? Why do groups in society often disagree about the causes and consequences of social problems, and about how to solve them? How do interest groups, media members, researchers, and politicians persuade the public to view and respond to social problems in particular ways? We will address these questions with a sociological framework for evaluating social problems. Using a variety of reading and discussion materials, we will consider some of the most pressing issues in contemporary American society, issues like poverty and inequality, crime and guns, immigration, environmental degradation, health and family life. We will examine the characteristics of these social problems and the debates that surround their causes, consequences, and possible solutions. Students will learn to think critically about social problems and to assess the framing of these issues using sociological theories and perspectives.
SOCIOLOGY OF CHILDHOOD
What does it mean to be a kid? What is it like to be a kid? By adopting a sociological perspective, we will see that the answers to these questions depend on children’s social contexts: who they are and where they live their lives. Using a variety of reading and discussion materials, we will examine how the meaning of childhood has varied over time and across cultures, and how children’s experiences vary across different social groups. In doing so, we will recognize that children are shaped by their social contexts, but that they also play an active role in making sense of and responding to their social worlds. Finally, we will explore the challenges and inequalities that children face, and discuss strategies for leveling the playing field in families, schools, and communities.
Ethnography can seem from the outside like a “mushy” science. Good ethnography, however, is far from mushy. It requires careful planning with rigorous attention to detail, ample practice in support of diligent effort, and persistence in the face of setbacks. Field work is not for the faint of heart. In this course, students will learn to identify both the practices that constitute “good” ethnography and the types of questions that can be answered with ethnographic research. Students will also build their tool kits of skills and strategies for field work. Students will then have the opportunity to practice these techniques and to receive feedback from the instructor and from their peers. Specific course topics include developing research questions, research design and sampling, selecting and gaining access to field sites, managing ethics and identity in the field, writing jottings and fieldnotes, conducting interviews, writing analytic memos, coping with challenges, data management and thematic coding, theory construction, and writing with qualitative data.
Students will be required to participate regularly in class discussions and activities, to complete a series of hands-on assignments, and to write a final paper that utilizes the skills learned in the course. Students may choose to base their assignments and final papers on field work conducted either for an existing (IRB-approved) project or as part of the public-space observation project that the IRB has approved for this course.