In class on Thursday, we will watch some video links that further apply the sociological perspective to social issues as well as start to delve into the topics of pop culture.

The Lottery of Birth (2013) overviews some of the sociological concepts that we have been examining:

This movie is from a website called Films for Action, which provides documentaries about social justice issues. The Media Education Foundation creates movies that critique popular culture from a sociological perspective. Browsing their movies will give you some ideas on how to look critically at pop culture, We will watch two clips from the MEF movies: Consuming Kids and Mickey Mouse Monopoly.

Consumer culture is an example of our actions being political and not neutral. Check out some statistics on the use of resources by “developed” nations.

Worldwatch Institute: State of Consumption Today
CNN: World’s Wealthiest 16% Use 80% of Natural Resources  

Walt Disney: Corporate Rap Sheet overviews lawsuits based on Disney subsidiaries use of sweatshop labor

Considering our overview of Obedience to Authority and the Lucifer Effect, how do understand our relationship to the inhumane treatment in factories around the world that produce the everyday items that we purchase?

How about our relationship to media images that stereotype based on gender, sexuality, race, (dis)ability, such as the charge that Disney movies produce stereotypical characters written by white man? Images are not neutral, but always comes from a particular social location (the writer, producer) and an engagement with power. One power is the power of producing such images that represent people other than one’s own race and gender; images that will be shown widely, while other non-traditional images are not produced on the same scale. In Mickey Mouse Monopoly, Chyng Feng Sun asks, “The question for me is not whether Disney should or should not appropriate other cultures’ stories, or whether ancient China was less or more oppressive than Disney’s portrayal? The question is, what type of stories get invented, circulated, perpetuated in the public imagination, and why?”

On Tuesday, we will be reviewing the studies conducted by Drs. Zimbardo and Milgram:

The Stanford Prison Experiment, Dr. Zimbardo

Obedience to Authority, Stanley Milgram

Feel free to use parts of this Prezi on Obedience to Authority if it is useful to you.

Each group will review a chapter related to one of these experiments and present it in class on Tuesday. You can post a link to your blog post below in the comments section.

The Structure of Social Groups (definitions

(Group discussion: Be ready to define/example any of the following terms)

Social organization
Social structure
Social relationship
Master status
Social control
Social group
Primary group
Secondary group
“iron cage” of rationality
the group affects perceptions
the group affects convictions
the group affects health and life
the group affects behavior
social system
social stratification

Group assignments for next class activities 

1: Milgram 1
2: Milgram 6
3: Milgram 11
4: Zimbardo 10
5: Zimbardo 13
6: Zombardo 16

C. Wright Mills wrote The Sociological Imagination in 1959. His book helps us understand the field of sociology–our topic of discussion for Tuesday. We read the article, “The Sociological Perspective,” from the textbook In Conflict and Order: Understanding Society. I have broken the chapter’s main points down into a series of questions, which I would like the students to go over during our class discussion. Each student will be assigned one or two discussion questions. Please answer the question with definitions, several examples, and further discussion questions for the class. Write your summary answer in this blog posting below in the comments section. You can also include any relevant links. Look over the sociological memes that students from last semester created, by clicking here

1. The author opens with the concept of “ideological traps” running our lives. What does that mean? 
2. What does sociology study? Examples at the personal, societal and global levels? 
3. Individuals are socially determined. 
4. Individuals have agency: they create, sustain, and change the social forms within which they conduct their lives. 3 parts. 
5. C. Wright Mills and The Sociological Imagination
6. Why is sociology frightening? The author provides at least two ideas. 
7. What are the types of questions that sociology asks (p. 10)? four types. 
8. What are the three problems with the idea of value neutrality when studying social phenomenon? 
9. What does Howard Zinn mean by saying, as his documentary movie is titled, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train?
10. In the section on Sources on Data, the author overviews different ways in which sociologists gather information. Please tell us about survey research.
11. In the section on Sources on Data, the author overviews different ways in which sociologists gather information. Please tell us about variables. 
12. In the section on Sources on Data, the author overviews different ways in which sociologists gather information. Please tell us about longitudinal surveys. 
13. In the section on Sources on Data, the author overviews different ways in which sociologists gather information. Please tell us about experiments. 
14. In the section on Sources on Data, the author overviews different ways in which sociologists gather information. Please tell us about observation.
15. In the section on Sources on Data, the author overviews different ways in which sociologists gather information. Please tell us about existing data. 
16. Sociologically speaking, what does class consciousness and class conflict mean? 
17. Sociologically speaking, what does false consciousness mean?  

On the second day of class, we will watch clips from two documentaries that explore the personal and historical identities of the filmmakers. The first film, Family Name, was created by Macky Alston, as he explores the history of his white family in the south, as former slave owners. 

The second movie, Yo Soy Boricua: Pa’que to lo sepas! (I’m Boricua just so you know), is created by Rosie Perez, as she explores her Puerto Rican heritage, both looking at her personal story as well as the history of the land. 

After viewing these two examples, please think about your own family history. 

Include the following: Your full name, major, year, extra-curricular activities. Have an opening into your story and a sociological theme about your family identity that you follow. Talk about demographics (gender, race, religion, ethnicity, location, class, etc.), institutions (education, government, military, economy, medical, etc.), and social power dynamics (how is power exercised in your family and how do you learn about it), as it relates to your story. List as many as you can, in detail. How does the stories in the documentaries resonate with your own? What is sociologically significant about your family? Mention some statistics related to your family, in order to contextualize it. (Include links, pictures, and videos).

IMG_0408For example, I could open with a story about my parents as they relate to the social institutions of the government and education. My mother entered the United States as a foreign student from Hong Kong; thus, interacting directly with governments (for visas) as well as the educational institution, as she found colleges to attend, in both England and then the United States. Strict governmental rules established that while she may be a on a student visa and attending school in a particular country, she was not allowed to work. Thus, the power of the governmental institution was controlling her options, and impacting her financially (institution of the economy) and exerting a force of power over her life. She later met and married my father, interring into yet another institution, that of marriage, which resulted in another interaction with the government (applying for her immigration papers, now that she was the wife of a U.S. citizen). They were a heterosexually marrying couple; thus, did not face the limitations that gay couples face when dealing with similar immigration issues. That is an example of the demographic category of “sexuality,” in which social power is exerted over our choices depending upon which sexual orientation category we fall into. My mother is Chinese, from Hong Kong, and my father is White, a descendent of farmers in Nebraska. My father was born in 1926, and thus, his childhood was spent during the Great Depression, while he was living on the farms of his grandparents, being impressed with the social issues of farmers losing their farms in large numbers. For example, here is a website entitled Living History Farm, which describes what it was like to be a farmer in Nebraska during this difficult time period. This situation, caused by the economic institution, shaped my father’s personality, behaviors and ideologies for the rest of his life. How has the economic situation of your childhood shaped your personality? Is it as dramatic as it was for my father? My mother was also shaped by ideology (a social structure: belief systems and their transmission): she, like many immigrants, came to the United States and hoped to achieve the American dream. Did you know that the phrase, “the American dream,” originated in the novel The Epic of America, by James Truslow Adams, published in 1931. That demonstrates that a cultural product from popular culture, can influence the ideology of a nation. Demographically, my parents are very different, and this differences stems from social identities often ranked hierarchically in terms of social power. My father is a White, heterosexual, man, older, financially stable as he was in the later stages of his career, and an American citizen. These are his demographic markers. On the other hand, my mother’s demographic markers place her in a socio-political economic position lower on the hierarchy than my father. She is an immigrant, lesser educated than my father (with his Ph.D.; though she has a BA degree, which places her in the ~30% of the population that holds such a degree), Chinese, younger (20 years younger than my father), holding jobs far more unstable and financially lucrative than my father’s, heterosexual, female, with a background in Hong Kong of coming from a wealthy family, along with six other siblings. Because of the hierarchical differences between my parents demographics, especially age, gender, and heterosexuality, it formed their daily behaviors in the house, such as my mother being responsible for the childcare, cooking, and cleaning, and my father not changing diapers, but paying all of the bills, and allowing my mother to keep her own money. Therefore, while I was growing up, I was placed in a context in which it was assumed that there were appropriate divisions of labor based on gender. This is another example of a social ideology being transmitted to us, and then we internalize such ideas into our own behaviors. It seems almost natural. I noticed racial hierarchies acted out in daily life as well, which taught me the lesson as a child that it is better to be White and speak English, over being Chinese and speaking Cantonese. I internalized this message early on, by the age of two I was running around the house saying, “I’m an American, I speak English,” in response to my IMG_0409mother’s half hearted attempts to teach me her first language, Cantonese. Where did I learn these ideas by the age of two? The social demographics, and my parents’ interactions and relationships with various social institutions, shapes the family environment in which I was raised, and established the ideologies I would learn and internalize, as well as the material life that I was provided with, which would contribute to my future possibilities. I am a person shaped by social institutions, how my family has interacted with them, demographic information, and the impact of social power (immigration, gender roles, etc.). This is how sociology teaches me another perspective in understanding how my family history influences the possibilities of my own life, and who I am as a person, and how I identify. 

This has been an example of the ways in which you can approach thinking sociologically about your own family histories and how these social factors have made you the person you are today. (846 words). 

Please post your own history stories and links in the comment section below. 

On the first day of class, we will jump in to group discussions that explore definitions of sociology and topics related to the family. 

In groups, please discuss these questions and report back to the class. Feel free to use the computers to assist you. 

Group 1: What is the difference between psychology and sociology (areas of research, theories, perspectives, etc.) 

Group 2: What are social institutions? What are their significance sociologically?

Group 3: What are examples of how institutions influence family formation or issues?

Group 4: How are families represented in the media? What is the social impact of these representations?

Group 5: What is the relationship between identity and family?  


Be sure to write down or keep track of this website in order to check the syllabus, plans for each day of class, assignments, and so on. 


For next class, think about what you can write about your identity (gender, race, nationality, socio-economic class, geographic location, etc.) as it relates to your relationship to the idea of family in general, and your family in particular. In class, we will watch clips from documentaries exploring identity. You will write your first blog post as a comment on the class blog after the second day of class, and you can start the assignment in class. Be sure to save it as a Word document in your dropbox. 


Our course for spring 2014 has officially come to an end. Have a great summer, to everyone. In the fall, I will teach Family again, as well as a course called Popular Culture. Keep in touch!

 Please view this Edward Bernays video, or else watch one of the short clips below. We will spend the next several class periods working on a project about marketing products. The first thing we will do is explore and research who Edward Bernays was and his work on marketing. Please look up as much information on him as you can find, including both academic as well as online sources. We will create a page for this assignment. You can
begin your page with information on Bernays. Include a written introduction to Bernays at the beginning of the storify, and introduce each link in your own words. Include a summary about his
work in your own words (!), with your own insight. Include a variety of links: videos, webpage, and at least one academic source (book, academic article).

Also watch Consuming Kids:

Next: pick a product, an idea(ology), or a genre of products. This
product should be something that you yourself do not consume, and you
are encouraged to pick a product that is from a different country,
culture, subculture, or something with which we are all not familiar.
(Do not pick the Iphone!!) Do some research on this object:

1) What are the global statistics on this product (# sold, $$ amount earned)? What company owns
this product? What company owns that company? Find out what the parent
company is, at the very top? How much money is spend on marketing it
in the world? Domestically? How much is spent by consumers purchasing
the product? During which years was this product popular?

2) How is this product marketed as far as selling desire? What
fantasy/desire is being sold along with this product? How do people
incorporate this product into the fantasy of themselves? In the
material reality of their life? How is this product used? What is its
social image?

3) How does this product fit into Bernays‘ philosophy of marketing?
What would he say? How would consumers respond?

4) Pick a second product that is either something that you yourself are inventing, or pick an historical product that is long outdated. Describe and show the marketing around this product. Who was the target market, how large were they, how were they reached?

FORMAT: Create a page titled something combining your
product, desire, and Bernays‘ philosophy. Have an introductory
paragraph about Bernays. Have a second paragraph introducing your
product/ideology and how it relates to Bernays. Have a summary of your (“I am going to show, a, b, c…”.). Have a conclusion
that overviews your presentation and your perspective (have a strong
argument that you are making! “I am arguing X!”). This should be a total of 250 words, your own discussion between links. Please have a critical analysis of the topic and an overview, and argument; do not just summarize the next link and next link. 

We will present some of these in class during our final days…

For an example of the marketing and “desire” around a product, check
out the movie Narco Cultura (Netflix), which demonstrates the rise and
marketing of narcocorridos, a popular Mexican/American music.

We will workshop this project for one or two days in class and then present. This can be considered the final project for the semester.


On Tuesday, April 22, we will have  guest speaker Brian Frank, a founding member of Lambda Family Circle. He will join us to discuss gay parenting issues, as well as his own personal story of his family. He and his partner Steven met some twenty years ago and both of them had very different coming out processes. While Steve came out early in life; Brian came out in his late twenties, and his family never accepted his sexuality or partner. When they were first together, few avenues existed for the creation of GLBT families. However, in the past two decades, many different pathways to parenthood have developed: adoption, surrogacy, alternative insemination, transparenting, and polyamory. Brian and Steve became foster parents to several children before adopting Darius.

Please write a summary response (and post here on this blog posting) to Brian’s talk of 150 words and include a link to an online source related to his class. This is due before the next class period and will count towards your participation points.

On Tuesday, April 15th, we will have guest speaker and filmmaker Bhawin Suchak (director of YouthFX) joining our class to show his documentary The Throwaways. Please take notes during this video and relate it to our sociology lens: power, institutions, and demographics. Post your response to the movie before the next class period: a minimum of 100 words, and relate it to topics we’ve covered in our class. Cite at least two academic references.


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