SOCIOLOGY 10: SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES
Dr. Christian Smith (Hamilton 209) Class Meeting: TR 2:00-3:15, Carroll 111
Office Hours: TR 3:30-4:15 or by appointment Key Course Info: blackboard.unc.edu
TAs: L. Hirschfeld, S. Smolek, D. Dehanas, T. Cupery, S. Blake
This course is an introduction to sociological perspectives on social life. Our major course objective is to learn how to “think sociologically” about our lives and the world we live in. This means cultivating in ourselves a “sociological imagination” through an investigation of culture, social structures, social processes, social institutions, and social change. That may sound abstract and dull, but it’s really a fascinating and important way of seeing and thinking about the world and our own lives.
One strategy we will use to achieve this objective is focusing on exploring and reflecting upon three different social institutions or settings—family, religion, and neighborhood—and three key sociological concepts—culture, social inequality, and social change. We will see how better understanding these social concepts and institutions can help us better understand human action, communities, institutions, and societies generally—which can then help us much better understand our own personal lives.
Along the way we will also be asking ourselves questions like: What actually makes a person “human?” What is morality, where does it come from, and how does it affect our actions? In what sense are individuals really “free?” Why do people tend to seek power and social status? How does wealth, power, and status shape the outcome of people’s lives? How is life in modern society different from the past? Does modern society erode community? Why are some people poor? Why is there crime, mental illness, and other deviations from normal life? What or who determines what is “normal life?” How does getting married or divorced affect outcomes in life? Why is it that all over the world for all of known history humans have felt compelled to practice this thing we call religion? How and why does being religious influence people’s actions? And so on. Those who apply themselves to wrestling with these kinds of issues and question will discover how very interesting and important sociological analysis can be. And in the process they will understand much more fully their own personal life experiences.
To summarize our course goals in performance-oriented terms: students who have successfully completed this course ought to be able (1) to “see” and think sociologically about many different social problems, experiences, and events; and, as a result, (2) to contribute to informed and informing discussions about important aspects of the human social experience in their lives, this country, and life and the world beyond.
These required readings (averages ~74 pages/week) are all available in the student bookstore (as well as online at and ):
Elijah Anderson, Code of the Street, Norton, 1999
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods, University of California Press, 2003
Christian Smith, Moral, Believing Animals, Oxford University Press, 2003
Christian Smith, The Secular Revolution, University of California Press, 2003
Linda Waite & Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage, Broadway Books, 2000
William Julius Wilson, When Work Disappears, Vintage Books, 1996
There are also assigned a handful of articles and chapters available on the course’s blackboard site. See Course Schedule below for the reading timetable.
I expect students to attend class regularly, to participate in class discussions as appropriate, to complete all of the readings on time, and to work to understand all of the materials covered in class. Grades for this class will be based on three exams and various unscheduled writing exercises, as follows:
1. Exam #1: The first exam, given during the class meeting of Februrary 17, will cover all materials from class and readings assigned for Weeks 1-6. This exam is worth 32% of the final course grade. Exam questions may be a combination of short answer, multiple choice, true-false, and essay questions. Students must take the exams at the times scheduled. The only exceptions might be instances of severe illness or major family tragedy, in which case the student must contact and make alternative arrangements with a TA before the scheduled exam. Do not simply skip the exam, then come afterwards and announce that you could not make the exam.
1. Exam #2: The second exam, given during the class meeting of March 30, will cover all materials from class and readings assigned for Weeks 7-10. This exam is worth 32% of the final course grade. Exam questions may be a combination of short answer, multiple choice, true-false, and essay questions. Students must take the exams at the times scheduled. The only exceptions might be instances of severe illness or major family tragedy, in which case the student must contact and make alternative arrangements with a TA before the scheduled exam. Do not simply skip the exam, then come afterwards and announce that you could not make the exam.
3. Final Exam: There will be a final exam given on May 4 at 12 noon, covering all materials from class and readings assigned for Weeks 11-16. This exam is worth 30% of the final course grade. Exam questions may be a combination of short answer, multiple choice, true-false, and essay questions. Note: the final exam must be taken at the time scheduled —do not schedule to leave for the summer, a wedding, or whatever before taking this exam; do not ask to take it at a special time.
4. Writing Exercises: Impromptu writing exercises—for example, in response to lecture materials or videos watched in class—will altogether be worth 6% of the final grade.
Grades for the semester will be calculated and assigned based on the following distribution and scale:
90-100% = A-, A 80-89% = B-, B, B+
70-79% = C-, C, C+ 60-69% = D-, D, D+
<60% = Fail
TA Office Hours: Each of the TAs will hold office hours during the week. Please take advantage of this help when you have any questions about the readings or lectures, concerns about doing well in the course, need for clarifications, etc. TA office hours are listed on the course’s blackboard.unc.edu site.
Class Behavior: Turn off the cell phones and chatter during class! In a large class it is difficult for your classmates to hear lectures with conversations going on around the classroom, so please be respectful of others and me and not hold conversations during class-time.
Honor Code: All provisions of the University Honor Code—which prohibits giving or receiving unauthorized assistance on graded course work—will be in effect for all exams and written assignments. You will be required on each exam to sign your name to the Pledge. If you have any questions about the application of the Code in a specific situation, please come and talk with a TA beforehand. Also please study UNC’s Pledge information at: .
WEEK 1: JAN 8 – Introduction and Organization
WEEK 2: JAN 13 & 15 – The Sociological Imagination
+ Mills, “The Promise” (on blackboard)
+ Gatto, “Seven Lesson Schoolteacher” (on blackboard)
WEEK 3: JAN 20 & 22 – What Makes Humans Tick?
- Smith, MBA pp. 3-94
WEEK 4: JAN 27 & 29 – Marriage & Divorce
- Waite, TCM pp. 1-123
WEEK 5: FEB 3 & 5 – Marriage & Divorce, Dating & Courtship
- Waite, TCM pp. 124-203
+ Pp. 4-41 of Glenn et al., “Hooking Up, etc...” (on blackboard)
WEEK 6: FEB 10 & 12 – Religion
- Smith, MBA pp. 95-123
+ Religion & Risk Report (on blackboard)
+ “Theorizing Religious Effects” (on blackboard)
EXAM #1: FEB 17
WEEK 7: FEB 19 – Secularization
- Smith, TSR pp. vii-86
WEEK 8: FEB 24 & 26 – Secularization
- Smith, TSR pp. 97-196
WEEK 9: MAR 2 & 4 – Morality, the Therapeutic, & Human Dignity and Rights
+ Nolan, “Therapeutic Culture” (on blackboard)
+ Yancey, “Nietzsche was Right” (on blackboard)
> SPRING BREAK (suggestion: start reading Lareau over break)
WEEK 10: MAR 16 & 18 – Social Inequality
- Lareau, UC pp. 1-133
WEEK 11: MAR 23 & 25 – Social Inequality
- Lareau, UC pp. 134-197, 221-257
EXAM #2: MARCH 30
WEEK 12: MAR 30 & APRIL 1 – Urban Poverty—the Micro View
- Anderson, CS pp. 9-106, 142-178
WEEK 13: APR 6 & 8 – Urban Poverty—the Big Picture
- Wilson, WWD pp. 3-86
WEEK 14: APR 13 & 15 – Urban Poverty—the Big Picture
- Wilson, WWD pp. 87-146
WEEK 15: APR 20 & 22 – Conclusion: The Sociologically-Informed Life
- Smith, MBA pp. 147-158
+ Mills, “The Promise” (on blackboard)
FINAL EXAM: MAY 4, 12 NOON
Rules of the Road
1. Come to class on time so that you will not miss important announcements and handouts.
2. If you have a question or problem, please see one of the TAs first, during their scheduled office hours. If the TA cannot answer your question or solve your problem, then make an appointment to see Prof. Smith.
3. Students must take the exams at the times scheduled. The only exceptions might be instances of severe illness or major family tragedy, in which case the student must contact and make alternative arrangements with a TA before the scheduled exam. Do not simply skip the exam, then come afterwards and announce that you could not make the exam.
Suggestions for Success
I offer the following suggestions for success in this course. Apply them as needed:
1. There are two keys to success in any task-oriented activity, including academic work: planning and self-discipline (conversely, the two keys to failure are disorganization and laziness). Planning involves assessing your resources and goals for a given period of time and developing a realistic schedule and strategy for accomplishing your goals, given your resources. This means stepping back and organizing the big picture, rather than always and only focusing on whatever obligation confronts you next. Weekly academic planners, in which you record all of your assignments, appointments, and deadlines, are essential here. Self-discipline means exercising the willpower to overcome the laziness and inertia that would prevent us from carrying out what we have planned. We all know that things don't just happen—we have to make them happen, and that usually requires that we discipline ourselves to work at it. My experience and observation, however, is that those students who plan best and exercise the most self-discipline not only get the best grades, but are also the ones who are freest to enjoy their extra-curricular activities—they get their work done early and efficiently, then go out to play with nothing hanging over their heads.
2. If you develop any worries, confusion, frustrations, logistical difficulties, or other sorts of problems related to this course, please come talk to a TA in time to take constructive action
3. Faithfully keep up with each week's assigned readings for this course. Falling behind can be fatal to your learning and final grade.
4. To prepare for exams, first, make sure that you understand the meaning and function of all of the terms and concepts covered in the unit that the exam tests. That is, you should be able both to define each concept accurately and to demonstrate how it is related to the rest of the material in that unit and properly employed in sociological analysis. Second, you should be able to use the specific content of the unit the exam tests to illustrate or illuminate the general theories and themes developed in the course. Finally, you should be able to think through analytical arguments—with theses, evidence, and justifiable conclusions—that explain the social causes, dynamics, and consequences of the specific issues studied in the unit the exam covers. Exam questions will not simply ask for memorized information, but may ask you to apply what you have learned to new problems and situations. If you can do these things, you should do well on the exams.
5. When studying and note-taking, always distinguish the centrally important issue or argument in the reading or lecture from the less-important details, facts, and other data that are only meant to illustrate, support, or nuance the central issue or argument. The danger of not doing so is treating all material as equally important, becoming overwhelmed with information, and failing to see and grasp the major point. It's not that supporting details and illustrations are unimportant and can be disregarded, just that they should not be cognitively processed in a way that obscures the reading or lecture's main argument. A helpful exercise here is to try to summarize concisely the essential point of a reading or lecture in one or two sentences. If you can't, something's wrong, and you probably need to go back and work at it more.