Being Sociological

Second edition

by Steve Matthewman, Catherine Lane West-Newman and Bruce Curtis

Additional teaching materials organised by chapter

Back to additional teaching materials

In this section of the site you will find material on the book’s chapters that will help to meet your teaching needs. Click on the chapter links below to access material including the key thinkers, key concepts, discussion points, critical thinking exercises, further reading and more, to help meet your teaching needs.

Chapter 2: Researching

Key Concepts

Quantitative Research

See: ‘Quantitative Methods’ from Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology.

Qualitative Research

See: ‘Qualitative Methods’ from Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology.

YouTube Lecture: A Brief Comparison of Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods

Discussion Questions

1. The Recurring Crises of Sociology and Truth Claims
  • Is sociology the ‘queen of the social sciences’? Why/Why not?
  • What is most important for researchers to be able to make truth claims?
  • To what extent is the role of sociology as an empirical and critical voice in society challenged as society becomes ever more digital, while large corporations control more and more data and limit access to ‘intellectual property’?

2. Six Word Stories
  • Create a six word story about an area of interest.
  • Are stories genuine narratives? What strengths and weaknesses do they possess? Are some better than others?
  • In your stories, are there discernible patterns of word usage? Do men and women use different words?
  • Do you think an argument could be made for six word stories in terms of validity and reliability?

Excerpt from Being Sociological

Quantitative Research

Qualitative Research

1. Cases and Variables

Many cases,
few variables

Few cases,
many variables

2. Categorisation

Building variables

Building cases

3. Framing

Variables interrogated

Variables determined

4. Words and Numbers

Numbers, to condense

Words, to enhance

5. Scope of Research

Breadth, shallow

Depth, narrow

6. Startpoint of Research

Somewhat deductive

Somewhat inductive

7. Goals of Inquiry

Identifying patterns
Making predictions
Testing theories

Interpreting events
Giving voice
Advancing theories

8. Political Stance

Tending conservative

Tending radical

Further Reading
Becker, H. (1998) Tricks of the Trade: How to Think About Your Research While You're Doing It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). This short monograph offers a wonderful overview of research. It deals with the dilemmas facing all researchers, especially emergent researchers, in terms of logics and concepts. The book is inspiring and sophisticated but refreshingly non-technical.

Curtis, B. and C. Curtis. (2011) Social Research: A Practical Introduction (London: Sage). This textbook covers a range of research approaches and seeks to operationalize some of Ragin’s (1987, 1994) insights about cases and variables and the goals of sociological research.

De Vaus, D. (2002) Surveys in Social Research, 5th edition (London: Routledge). The multiple editions of this book tell you everything you need to know about running a survey. Well almost. Certainly, if you are contemplating survey research this is a great place to start.

Chapter 3: Modernizing

Key Theorists
  • Ferdinand Tonnies
  • Norbert Elias
  • Emile Durkheim
  • Karl Marx
  • Max Weber
  • Auguste Comte

Key concepts
‘The Enlightenment Movement’

The Enlightenment Movement is an important aspect of sociology’s formation. The ideas which the Enlightenment stood for, including their belief in science, reason and logic have become influential in the social sciences today and in sociology particularly.

The Enlightenment praised figures like Isaac Newton and celebrated notions of reason and the scientific method. It marked a change as science was no longer subordinate to religion and the supernatural. As Sampson (1956, p. 40) notes, scientific had meant that humanity can increasingly control nature, resulting in spectacular moral and social progress.

Ultimately, this scientific, secularist ideology has immensely influenced the social sciences.

‘Gemeinschaft’ and ‘Gesellschaft’

Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are concepts belonging to sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies. The terms are used to describe the change in the social bonds present in traditional society and modern society respectively.

Gemeinschaft’: Essentially, Gemeinschaft means ‘community’. It relates to the traditional societal bonds which emerge from communities, families and kinship. They feature immense loyalty, commitment, closeness and emotional depth.

Gesellschaft’: This means ‘association’ or ‘society’. It relates to the short-lived social bonds which emerge in our increasingly economic age. It refers to how we have short exchanges with people we don’t know, occurring most frequently in the public sphere when purchasing goods.

Discussion Questions

1. Social Development and Social Forces
  • Do we live in a world defined by never ending change?
  • Has humanity freed itself from nature?
  • Is there such thing as social progress? Have we perfected ourselves?

‘American Children Will Be “Majority Minority” by 2018’
  • Do you think this is an example of our world continuing to change?
  • What do you think will change our world the most in the future?
  • What do you think are the most dangerous elements of our future world?

2. Science and Sociological Knowledge
  • Have we liberated ourselves from superstition/religion?
  • Is sociology a science?
  • Has sociology lived up to its promise?
In 2010, it is estimated that 9% of the world is non-religious, and 2% is atheist. Can an argument be made for having liberated ourselves from religion or not?

Critical thinking exercise: The dark-side of modernity
Jorge Heine has recently published a book entitled “The Dark Side of Globalisation”, this video is him discussing it. Raising interesting questions about the process of modernization and globalization and the negative aspects of society that have accompanied it, he focusses on these challenges and how international government initiatives are needed to overcome them.

The process of modernisation has given rise to all of the modern conveniences which we take for granted today. However, often forgotten is that modernisation has come with many downsides.
  • Can you think of some of these downsides? Many of these are examined in Being Sociological.
  • What do you think is the most beneficial and most detrimental aspect of modernity?
  • On balance, do you think modernity and increased globalisation has ultimately been good or bad?
  • Who is responsible for attempting to overcome these downsides? Government? Companies? NGOs?

Web content

For Karl Marx and Max Weber, see the links in Chapter 5: Stratifying.

Emile Durkheim

Durkheim and Types of Social Solidarity, lecture given at Yale University.

Other content
Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ (1936)

Further Reading
Hall, Stuart and Gieben, Bram (eds) (1992) Formations of Modernity, Cambridge, Polity Press/The Open University. Provides a broad overview of the key historical processes, institutions, and ideas that have come to influence the development of modern societies and contemporary sociological analysis.

Kumar, Krishan (1988) The Rise of Modern Society: Aspects of the Social and Political Development of the West, Oxford, Basil Blackwell. Offers a sociological theory of industrialism and assesses its impact on the economic, political, social and cultural realms.

Kilminster, Richard (1998) The Sociological Revolution: From the Enlightenment to the Global Age (London: Routledge) (paperback 2002). A critical survey of the origins and subsequent development of the discipline of sociology. The book begins with Kant, Hegel and Marx and concludes with globalization and structuration theory.

Chapter 4: Controlling - Power

Key theorists
  • Max Weber
  • Manuel Castells
  • Carolyn Nordstrom
  • Michel Foucault

Key concepts
Generally, sociologists have attempted to understand ‘power’ not by itself, but examining how it manifests itself. Accordingly, the notion of power is incredibly instrumental in multiple fields of sociological inquiry. In this book alone, power is immensely important in almost every chapter. It is important that you ask yourself questions which assess the way in which our world is unequal, or why the way things are as they are and who (which classes/ethnicities/genders) is interested in maintaining the status quo.

See: ‘Power’ from the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology

Quantifiable Power:

Often, people aim to treat power as something which can be measured and quantified, like we do with money for example. Accordingly, we deduce ‘how much’ power we have in relation to how much someone else has, where if someone has more, I will have less.

Accordingly, power is viewed as a ‘zero-sum game’ where there is a set and finite amount of power available in society, which tends to be unevenly distributed. This uneven distribution is what you must begin to question as a sociologist.

Two crucial examples where power inequalities are clear is in national legal systems and the global distribution of poverty.

Legitimacy and Globalised Power:

Due to the process of globalisation, immensely sized transnational corporations (TNCs) perform functions that states once did, such as owning transportation and communication networks. These hugely sized organisations like Wal-Mart, are now larger than many nation states.

Castells has argued that the way in which nation-state operates is undermined as economic activities, communication, crime, protest and terrorism are all globalised. Furthermore, global organised crime creates an underground economy which is sufficiently large to penetrate and destabilise nation-states.

In conclusion, the lines between legitimate and illegitimate power has become blurred in the age of globalisation. As Castells notes, nation-states will continue to exist, but will do so as only part of a broader network of power, combined with corporations (both legitimate and illegitimate).

Discussion Questions
1. Criminals and Power.
Forbes magazine have attempted to create a list of the most powerful people in the world. It can be found at To do so, they used four generic criteria which are:
  1. How many people do they have power over?
  2. What level of resources do they possess?
  3. Are they powerful for multiple reasons?
  4. Is their power actively used?

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, the drug trafficker and head of the Sinaloa Cartel discussed in the chapter is ranked as the 63rd most powerful.
  • Do you agree with how Forbes’ have attempted to calculate power?
  • Who do you personally think is the most powerful person in the world?
  • What would legalizing drugs do to shadow powers?
  • What do shadow powers generate, other than wealth?

Documentary - “Breaking the Taboo”
Film narrated by Morgan Freeman, which compares America’s failed “War on Drugs” to the consequences in states where drugs are legal/decriminalised. Watch and reconsider the questions about the impact of legalising drugs on shadow powers.

2. Technologies and Power. “Foucault 2.0”
  • Do technologies make the exercise of power, or the resistance to it, easier?
  • Do we still live in a panoptic society? Why/why not?
  • Which makes more sense, ‘surveillance society’ or ‘viewer society’? Why?

“The National Security Agency’s Domestic Spying Program”
The filmmaker Laura Poitras profiles William Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency who helped design a top-secret program he says is broadly collecting Americans’ personal data.
  • Does this convince you about us living in a surveillance society? Why/why not?

Critical thinking exercise: Banksy
Artwork linked here:

In 2008, world-renowned street artist Banksy painted his famous “One Nation Under CCTV” work on the side of a London building. It was in response to the introduction of CCTV cameras all around London and the threats to personal privacy which accompanied it. It is an interesting event to analyse through a Foucauldian lens.
  • Does this seem like a clear example of panoptic/surveillance society to you?
  • Other than CCTV, can you think of other places of where panopticism is present?

Later, the City Council responsible for the area where the artwork was located demanded that it be painted-over and removed. They justified the removal by reiterating their zero-tolerance stance on vandalism.
  • What does this tell you about power in the way that the council removed it? Arguably aiming to restore the false consciousness of many Londoners that Banksy tried to remove by making people question the implementation of CCTV.
  • How do you view Banksy? A vandal or an artist? Who defines him as such, and why would they define him that way?

Web content
For Max Weber - See the Yale University YouTube lectures linked for Chapter 5.

Manuel Castells:

Lecture: Castells on ‘Network Theories of Power’, at the University of Southern California.

Lecture: Castells lecturing about ‘Communication Power in Network Societies’, at the University of Oxford.

Carolyn Nordstrom:

Lecture: Nordstrom discussing “The Global Shadow of Modern (Tomorrow's) War” at Colgate University, New York.

Piracy and Illegal Global Economies, Carolyn Nordstrom”
Video: Carolyn Nordstrom discusses piracy and the connection of illegal trade to the recent economic collapse.


‘Social Movements and State Violence’
In this post, David Mayeda examines how Max Weber’s theoretical positions on authority, power, and violence apply to the recent disturbances in and around London, England, and Davis, California.

‘Steve Jobs and the Routinization of Charisma’
A post which considers the late Steve Jobs’ charisma through a Weberian lens.

‘That’s Wrong! When You Do It.’
It’s easy to see how having power allows the powerful to define their behavior as normal or at least acceptable while at the same time defining the actions of the less powerful as being abnormal or wrong. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses this in relation to the recent Congressional insider trading saga.

Other content

David Wood, ‘Foucault and Panopticism Revisited’.
This editorial introduces this issue in the context of the progress of the Surveillance and Society project. It discusses the theme of this issue, the importance of Michel Foucault’s work for Surveillance Studies, briefly summarises the contributions of the authors, and also considers what comes next.

Further Reading
The budding sociologist always profits from reading Charles Lemert. The fifth edition (2012) of Social Things: An Introduction to the Sociological Life (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield) is no exception. While the entire book is recommended, chapter 7, ‘The Mysterious Power of Social Structures’ is particularly useful for the purposes of this topic.

Michael Mann’s (2011) Power in the 21st Century (Cambridge: Polity) is a series of conversations with structured around the topics of: capitalism , militarism and political power. It considers both powers in motion and the nature of social change. As with Lemert, this is a highly readable text.


Chapter 5: Stratifying - Inequalities

Key theorists
  • Karl Marx
  • Max Weber

Key concepts
Inequality is the result of abundance Video by Norton Sociology, gives a good introductory explanation of what stratification is.
Class refers to a stratification system that divides a society into a hierarchy of social positions. It is also a particular social position within a class stratification system: lower class, working class, middle class, upper class, or other such class designations. It is a method of social ranking that involves money, power, culture, taste, identity, access, and exclusion. Conceptualizations of class belong not only to sociology, but also to the popular press, the marketplace, the political process, and to those who perceive themselves as being located within a particular class position ... To some people, class connotes differing economic circumstances, lifestyles, and tastes; to others it is about social status, esteem, and respect. From Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology:
David Mayeda notes in the chapter the way in which stratification is interrelated with race, ethnicity and gender.

See: From the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology.
Gender and Stratification:

Race/Ethnicity and Stratification:

Discussion questions
1. Class and University
  • How has your life affected your university experience? Are you on a student-loan? Working? Being paid for by parents?
  • What kinds of trends do you notice around students employment - Where, when and why do they work?
  • How can student debt affect people in later life in today’s world? Forego marriage? Buying a house? Having children? Not finishing university?
“Default: The Student Loan Documentary”:
Default: the Student Loan Documentary chronicles the stories of borrowers from different backgrounds affected by the student lending industry and their struggles to change the system.
  • What can you see about the intersection of class/gender/ethnicity and debt?
  • Do you think New Zealand students are better off than those in the US when it comes to loans? - What might this say about excessive privatisation and inadequate regulation?
Book - ‘Generation Debt’ by Anya Kamenetz.

2. Measuring Inequality:
  • What other examples of vital, existential and resource inequality can you think of?
  • How to reduce these?
  • How else is inequality produced?
  • How can we measure it?

Richard Wilkinson, “How income inequality harms societies”:
We feel instinctively that societies with huge income gaps are somehow going wrong. Richard Wilkinson charts the hard data on economic inequality, and shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, even such basic values as trust.


Critical thinking exercise
Making Global Labor Fair’ - Auret van Heerden, at Ted Global 2010.
  • Do you ever stop to consider the processes by which our modern conveniences are made? Do you actively purchase goods if they are ‘fair trade’ certified, or do you purchase whatever is the cheapest?
  • Do you think your view is more popular? What do you think it means to capitalism and global supply chains if the latter view is dominant?
  • What do you think about the way in which corporations undermine national sovereignty - notably by forcing countries to deregulate their labour market in order to attract foreign investment? Why do governments accept this?
  • Do you think companies will ever shift their focus from pure profit-chasing to a concern for human rights and the well-being of fellow humans? Should they?
  • Whilst they are attempting to maintain transparency and responsibility on the part of the multinational companies - why do these injustices still happen?
  • Do you think that the focus on major international breaches of human rights, diverts countries’ attention from less known, domestic injustices - such as ethnic or gender inequality in everyday society?

Web content

Yale University Lectures
Lectures given at Yale University. Extremely thorough, but offer great insight into the theories.

Marx’s Theory of Class and Exploitation:

Weber’s Theory of Class:

Traditional Authority:

Charismatic Authority:

Legal-Rational Authority:


Wade: “New CEOs: The Diversification of the Corner Office”

Grollman: “The Importance of Intersectionality: Multiple Forms of Discrimination and Health”

Dean: “Ideology and False Consciousness in a Super Bowl Ad”

Other Links:

Robert Reich on Taxes and the Economy. Succinctly explains the “big-picture” issue with the US economy in 2 minutes and 15 seconds:

Other content


Inside Job, by Charles Ferguson.

Capitalism: A Love Story, by Michael Moore.


There are thousands of novels which place class as a central theme, these are just a few personal favourites.

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee.
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen.
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck.


Suggestions for further reading
Grusky, D. and Szelenyi, S. (eds) (2011) The Inequality Reader: Contemporary and Foundational Readings in Race, Class, and Gender (Boulder, CO: Westview Press). The title explains the content. This is the second edition of the book. It contains diverse readings which aim to be accessible to the beginning student, including contributions by Barbara Ehrenreich, Karl Marx and Max Weber.

Platt, L. (2011) Understanding Inequalities: Stratification and Difference(Cambridge: Polity). This book uses data to examine inequalities in gender, ethnicity and class. It also explores the ways in which these inequalities work themselves out in various settings such as education, health and housing. A unifying theme is the way in which inequality is measured or marginalised.

Stiglitz, J. E. (2012) The Price of Inequality (New York: W.W. Norton). Written against the backdrop of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, this book looks at how political systems have been manipulated by elites to empower themselves. It also considers the devastating social consequences of the resulting income inequality.

Chapter 6: Becoming - Identities

Key thinkers
  • Charles Horton Cooley
  • George Herbert Mead
  • Erving Goffman
  • Kenneth Gergen

Key concepts

The term stigma refers to a social or individual attribute that is devalued and discredited in a particular social context. This will be important in the discussion questions, notably with regards to spoiled identities of those who are disabled. Goffman looked at stigma in terms of physical abnormality, character imperfections and racial (“tribal”) stigma.
  • Which one of these would encompass Tourette’s?
See: ‘Stigma’, in Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology.

Identity Politics
Identity politics describes a series of challenges mounted in response to ‘the declining ability of democratic nation-states to represent adequately the interests of large segments of their constituencies’ (Bullock and Trombley, 1999, p. 413). As such, these often manifest themselves in social movements which arise to address certain oppressive/inequitable conditions.
  • What are the most prominent social movements at the moment?

Discussion questions

1. “Am I Pretty?”
  • How can we analyse this trend through the views of Cooley, Mead or Goffman?
  • How important is the social presentation of the self? Do you think that this has been reinforced, or undermined with the emergence of social media/social networks?
  • Is there a gendered difference in the requirement of the presentation of the self?

Naomi Wolf, “The Beauty Myth”:

Rick Guidotti, “From Stigma to Supermodel”:
Fashion photographer from New York City discussing Albinism/Albinos and their stigma etc.
  • What does this video teach us about stigma? About beauty?

2. “Disability and Identity” - Tourette’s Syndrome.
  • Other examples of complex body/mind relationships which form an identity? ADHD? OCD?
  • Disability as spoiled identity, still relevant today? See Ruby Wax Video.
  • What do you think is the most problematic identity to have? Criminal? Disabled? Black? Female? Homosexual?
Documentary: “Teenage Tourette’s Camp”:
Follows five British teenagers with Tourette's Syndrome as they spend a week in an American summer camp.
  • How does society view people with Tourette’s? Positively? Understandingly? Negatively? Ignorantly? All of these? Do you think the way we view them affects these children? Or other people with Tourette’s?

Ruby Wax: What’s so funny about mental illness
Diseases of the body garner sympathy, says comedian Ruby Wax – except those of the brain. Why is that? With dazzling energy and humor, Wax, diagnosed a decade ago with clinical depression, urges us to put an end to the stigma of mental illness.
  • Why do you think society is less sympathetic towards mental illness than something like cancer?

Critical thinking exercise - culture and spoiled identity
Current Affairs (2012): The fans of Russian football club Zenit St Petersburg want black and gay players excluded from their team, and often hurls racist language at opposing players.:

The Most Homophobic Place On Earth? Time Magazine profiles the country of Jamaica and notably in popular culture, how homophobic material is disseminated and glorified.,8599,1182991,00.html
  • What do you think about these events? Do they shock you?
  • Do you think we are so focussed on our own societies, such as progress in many Western nations around gay rights and marriage equality, that we forget about other cultures which aren’t as accepting?
  • Are the most problematic identities to have culturally dependent?
  • Does this show how identity can be a social construct?
Imagine people with the same identities (black or gay) as the footballers and how they would be treated in their social lives in Russia (and many other places with similar views).
  • How do you think we should overcome these discriminatory views to ensure equal treatment for all?
  • Is it culturally arrogant for us to tell them what to think? On the other hand, why should we wait whilst injustice persists?
  • Along with people’s minds, these views will be entrenched in society’s institutions, (such as the Jamaican police overlooking gay hate crimes) what is it about institutional discrimination which makes it more difficult to overcome? Does it link back to the legal-rational authority that they often have?

Online material
George Herbert Mead:
Thorough examination of Mead’s “I and Me” theory. Also covers Charles Horton Cooley’s work.

Erving Goffman:

Scrubs and the Presentation of Self: Dominates and Subordinates
Demonstrates the way in which our ‘roles’ are socially dependent.

Lecture from UC Berkeley from 2009.

Kenneth Gergen:

YouTube Lecture
This lecture covers Gergen for the first few minutes.


“How Hammer Pants Helped Me Find My Self”:
Who are you and how did you find yourself? That may seem like mumbo jumbo non-sense, but keep in mind that babies are not born understanding that they are a separate being nor do they know that others exist. So that begs the question, how did you find your “self” and become aware that others exist? In this piece Nathan Palmer helps us answer these questions by discussing George Herbert Mead’s concept of “the I” and “the me”.

“Facebook: Front Stage, Back Stage and Comparing Ourselves to Others”
In this post, David Mayeda, applies Erving Goffman’s “front stage” and “back stage” dramaturgical metaphors to this empirical study of facebook users. If you’ve ever wondered about facebook’s pros and cons, read on.

“The Writing on The Wall”
Who are you really? Are you brave enough to let the world know? In this post, Bridget Welch explores a core human motivation ” to be seen as our authentic selves ” and how that is problematic when who you are is stigmatized.


Other content

Shame (2011)

Suggestions for further reading
Campbell, F. K. (2009) Contours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan).
A recent disability studies work that explores the relationship between the ways of understanding ableness and its norms and the production of disability as an identity and social condition. Its extensive bibliography is a good resource for reading in this area.

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (London: Pelican Books).
This is the original book that underpins most work in this field over the past fifty years and as such it is an excellent introduction to Goffman’s hugely influential ideas.

Roseneil, S. and J. Seymour eds. Practising Identities: Power and Resistance(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999.)
This book starts from the premise that contemporary identities are complex, fragmented, multiple, and fluid and describes research into identity practices examined around religion, ethnicity, sport, body modification, education, food, and managerial masculinity.


Chapter 7: Gendering

Key theorists
  • Ann Oakley
  • Erving Goffman
  • Candace West and Don Zimmerman
  • Judith Butler

Key concepts

Gender Inequality

This is the focus of Holmes’ chapter and centers on the way in which power is unevenly distributed between the genders, undoubtedly skewed in a male’s favour.

More info from Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology:

Discussion Questions
1. Gender Ambiguity - Androgyny
  • Does the androgynous image question the established norms around gender?
  • What would the response be to a woman modelling as a man?
  • Does androgyny reinforce or undermine the binary male/female divide?
‘Human Sexuality is Complex’:
  • What does this video demonstrate about the binary divide between masculinity and femininity?
‘Are “Bronies” Changing the Definition of Masculinity?’:
  • Can you think of other trends which make the binary divide between masculine and feminine gender behaviours more blurred?
2. How essential is gender? - Raising ‘genderless’ children.
  • Is it possible to think outside a ‘sexed world’?
  • Are the oppressions of gender the most extensive of all in today’s societies?
  • How might this indeterminately gendered child be treated?

Current affairs: Hasbro Reveals Plans for Gender Neutral Easy-Bake Oven - Time Magazine.
  • Do you think initiatives such as this to overturn the promotion of specific gender roles in society is a good thing?

Critical thinking exercise
A ‘solution’ to gender inequality in the workplace:“Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders

Watch the video above, then consider these questions:
  • Do you agree with what Sandberg says? Why/why not?
  • What underlying assumptions are clear in her speech? Look are her diction, words like Individualism? The central concerns of money/job/success? “Choices”?
  • Does Sheryl ignore structural factors which might impact females’ life chances?
  • “We’ve got to get women to sit at the table” - What do you think about this in relation to solving gender inequality? Is it really that simple?
  • Does she acknowledge the gendered discourse in her second point?
  • Do you think there is something wrong with her privileging the commercial life over the maternal existence in her third point?
  • Does she completely ignore the structural limitations placed upon “choice”?
  • Do you think if she was perhaps from an ethnic minority, and didn’t attend Harvard University (or any university for that matter) views on choice/chances/success might be different? Might it alter her ‘sociological imagination’?

Online content

Judith Butler:

Judith Butler: Your Behavior Creates Your Gender:
‘Nobody is born one gender or the other, says Butler. "We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman."’
French Documentary about Judith Butler, featuring Butler herself in Q&A type scenarios: Some parts are in German and French, but the majority is Butler speaking in English with French subtitles.
Part One -
Part Two -
Part Three -
Part Four -

Yale University Lecture “Queer Theory and Gender Performativity”
In this lecture on queer theory, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of Judith Butler in relation to Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality.

Erving Goffman:

Documentary: Sut Jhally - The Codes of Gender
The Codes of Gender explores Goffman's central claim that gender ideals are the result of ritualized cultural performance, uncovering a remarkable pattern of masculine and feminine displays and poses. It looks beyond advertising as a medium that simply sells products, and beyond analyses of gender that focus on biological difference or issues of objectification and beauty, to provide a clear-eyed view of the two-tiered terrain of identity and power relations.

Gendered Bodily Postures: Body Clowning
Sociologist Erving Goffman described and exhibited subtle features of gender displays in his book Gender Advertisements. One significant feature that he noted was the ritualization of subordination in which women are portrayed in clowning and costume-like characters. This still rears its ugly head in today’s advertisements.

Ann Oakley

Lecture: At Edinburgh University given by Ann Oakley on the “The Invention of Gender: Social Facts and Imagined Worlds”

Other content

Paris is Burning
Paris Is Burning is a 1990 documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African American, Latino, gay and transgender communities involved in it.

Killing Us Softly 3
Jean Kilbourne continues her groundbreaking analysis of advertising’s depiction of women in this most recent update of her pioneering Killing Us Softly series. In fascinating detail, Kilbourne decodes an array of print and television advertisements to reveal a pattern of disturbing and destructive gender stereotypes.

Suggestions for further reading
Beasley, C. (2005) Gender and Sexuality: Critical Theories, Critical Thinkers(London: Sage).
An accessible introduction to gender and sexuality theory that as well as giving an overview and critique of the key thought in debates on gender includes issues of race, ethnicity, imperialism and gay masculinities and the implications of body theory for gender theorizing.

Connell, R. (2009) Gender: In World Perspective (Cambridge: Polity).
This is a comprehensive examination of gender studies theory that includes empirical material from many parts of the world. The character of gender relations is located in the context of personal life, large organizational structures, and changing gender politics.

Holmes, M. (2009) Gender and Everyday Life (London: Routledge).
This book looks at men and women shaped by their everyday social world in the past and at present. It covers a global range of ideas and issues around gender with some rather unusual and interesting examples.

Chapter 8: Sexualizing

Key theorists
  • Richard Von Kraft-Ebbing
  • Havelock Ellis
  • Alfred Kinsey
  • Theresa De Lauretis

Key concepts
Essentialism and Social Constructionism

One of the key sexuality debates arises from the contradicting viewpoints of essentialists and social constructionists. These perspectives are positioned generally within debates about gender, ethnicity and many other areas too.

Essentialists will argue in favour of hard-wired, fundamental sexuality, which will most commonly be heterosexuality. It can be used to explain how many homosexuals (and other alternative sexualities) have felt different for their whole lives. On the other hand, social constructionists argue that sexuality is above all, something which is shaped by our social existence and something which we learn.

Which of the two positions do you think is the most useful for explaining sexualities?

Queer Theory

The term ‘queer theory’ was coined by Theresa de Lauretis. It is seen as the postmodern turn in sexuality studies, with its origins in the work of Michel Foucault. It is a social constructionist position, rejecting essentialist notions of a fundamental identity. Kirsch explains the theory as one which places sexuality as the central concept and is used to attempt to understand other ‘social, political and cultural phenomena’.

Queer theorists reject the notion of identity through difference, seeing this as based in ever oppressive heterosexist views. The aim of queer theory is to trouble the norms and hopefully rid the dominant heterosexist assumptions.


Discussion questions
1. Sexuality and Technology
  • What technologies affect sexuality or what it is to be a man/woman?
  • How does feminism connect to notions of sexuality?
  • Are women and men now in full control of their own bodies?
Dr. Wendy Walsh & Don Lemon Talk Sex and Technology
  • Do you think pornography is an example of technology affecting sexuality?
  • If you do, do you agree with Dr Walsh’s view? Or is her view sensationalist and trying to generate some sort of moral panic?
  • Do you think pornography consequently impacts on how men and women, have or think about sex and their sexuality?

2. Same-sex Marriage
  • Is marriage a ‘heteronormative’ institution?
  • Has gay culture become more mainstream?
  • Are gays and lesbians treated as well as heterosexuals?

The Guardian: The Rise of “Corrective” Rape in South Africa
  • What does this video tell you about whether gay culture is becoming ‘mainstream’ and the differing treatment of certain sexualities around the globe?

Gay Bashing: What Would You Do?
  • Why would people think differently about male couples’ “PDA” than straight couples?
  • However, do you feel that the location of the gay experiment is socially located to provoke a response? (Southern USA)
  • Who do you think is most in support of gay equality? and who is the least?
  • At the end, why do you think lesbian PDA is treated differently? Is it the media/films/pornography’s fault?

Critical thinking exercise
LZ Granderson, ‘The Myth of the Gay Agenda
In a humorous talk with an urgent message, LZ Granderson points out the absurdity in the idea that there's a "gay lifestyle," much less a "gay agenda." CNN and ESPN columnist LZ Granderson is a celebrated voice on sports, race and gay rights
  • Do you agree with LZ’s message?
  • What does the creation mythical ‘gay lifestyle’ and ‘gay agenda’ do to claims for equality?
  • Who does it serve to oppress homosexuals? - Do you think certain people and certain institutions oppress the LGBT more than others?
  • With the banning of same-sex marriage in California prompting a case in the US Supreme Court in 2013 - what do you think should (or will) be the outcome?
  • Will the status/age/gender/sexuality of the Supreme Court judges be important?

Online content
Glenn Beck Was Right
In this post, Bridget Welch explores if there is a connection between acceptance of homosexuals and television shows.

Discourses of Religious Freedom in Ads Against Same-Sex Marriage

Individualist vs. Social Frames Favouring Gay Marriage

Other content

Kinsey (2004)
A look at the life of Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson), a pioneer in the area of human sexuality research, whose 1948 publication "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" was one of the first recorded works that saw science address sexual behavior.

Milk (2008)
The story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California's first openly gay elected official.


The Stonewall Uprising
Documentary which covers the the story of the massive police raid of Stonewall in June 1969 and the resulting protests which proved to be a watershed moment in the move for gay civil rights.

8: The Mormon Proposition
An investigation into the Mormon Church’s influence in passing the recent anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 in California.


Suggestions for Further Reading
Beasley, C. (2005) Gender and Sexuality: Critical Theories, Critical Thinkers(London: Sage).
An accessible introduction to gender and sexuality theory that as well as giving an overview and critique of the key thought in debates on gender includes issues of race, ethnicity, imperialism and gay masculinities and the implications of body theory for gender theorizing.

Connell, R. (2009) Gender: In World Perspective (Cambridge: Polity).
This is a comprehensive examination of gender studies theory that includes empirical material from many parts of the world. The character of gender relations is located in the context of personal life, large organizational structures, and changing gender politics.

Holmes, M. (2009) Gender and Everyday Life (London: Routledge).
This book looks at men and women shaped by their everyday social world in the past and at present. It covers a global range of ideas and issues around gender with some rather unusual and interesting examples.


Chapter 9: Racializing

Key theorists
  • W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Max Weber
  • Karl Marx
  • Robert Miles
  • Stuart Hall

Key concepts

The term Racialization was coined by Michael Banton and John Rex. Racialization aims to explain how race, in conjunction with other factors like gender or class, shape our social existence. Effectively, it is examining the social construction of race.

It is argued that racialization is another process by which the global capitalist system organises and legitimates the inequitable allocation of resources, focussing on the way in which different ethnicities are privileged or marginalised to different degrees.

See: Structural and Institutional Racism, from Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology

The Social Construction of Race Explained’ - Norton Sociology.

Discussion questions
1. Adopting an Ethnic Identity: “Wiggers”
  • Does someone adopting another ethnicity mean they are rejecting their own origins? Or is race simply a fluid concept?
  • Why would an ethnic group reject people who try to adopt the ethnicity?
  • Could there be advantages for a minority group in adopting members from a dominant group?

Eminem 8 Mile Rap Battles’ from the film 8 Mile. (Warning: Explicit Lyrics)
  • What does the excerpt from the film tell you about the willingness of minorities to accept someone from a different ethnicity?
  • Do you think the same processes of adopting identities exists in New Zealand? What do you think about the interrelationship of Pakeha and Maori or Pakeha and Pacific Islanders for example?

2. Racializing Strangers
  • What are the problems with racializing groups through government policy to enhance national security? Such as those which are present worldwide following September 11, 2001.
  • Are there other common examples of racial profiling which are damaging? Blacks as criminal?
  • What are the positives of being able to claim an officially recognised ethnicity?

‘The Vilification of Arabs in Hollywood Movies’

Critical thinking exercise
We Need To Talk About An Injustice’ - Bryan Stevenson
We have a system of justice in [the US] that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.
  • Do you believe this statement is true? If so, what do you think about this fact?

Stevenson states that in too many countries, ‘the opposite of poverty is justice’.
  • What does Stevenson mean by this? What does the interrelation of poverty and ethnicity therefore mean?
  • Mechanisms such as Stevenson’s “Equal Justice Initiative”, are they a good way to challenge the systematic racial bias in places such as the criminal justice system?
  • What is holding back these initiatives from being widely successful when people clearly enjoyed his talk?
  • What other institutions do you think systematically disadvantage ethnic groups?
  • Do you think that the status of Mr. Stevenson may undermine his viewpoints for some people; Can “exceptions” (such as Mr. Stevenson) to the disproportionate number of poor African-Americans be used to fuel neoliberal discourse?

Online content

Stuart Hall:

Lecture: “Race, the Floating Signifier”
All 7 parts are on YouTube.


NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy
Watch the video included in the post too.

Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and the Pay Gap

Another Look at Racial Violence After Katrina

Offline Material

Central Park Five’ (2012)

The Interrupters’ (2012)

Suggestions for further reading
Murji, K. and J Solomos (eds) 2002 Racialization: Studies in Theory and Practice(London: Routledge).
This collection focuses on the concept of racialization as a currently central concept in the study of race and ethnicity. The writers address the phenomenon in a number of different social and political arenas and locate it in relation to gender, policing, immigration, and youth cultures.

Saunders, D. (2010), Arrival City (Australia: Allen and Unwin).
A fascinating study of a significant aspect of globalization and multiculturalism this book explores the social and economic conditions for success and failure in the settlement and integration of migrants.

Said, E W. (1995 /1987) Orientalism (London: Penguin).
This book has been hugely influential in a number of disciplines because of the way in which it explored and exposed the strong connections between colonialism, racialising and European enlightenment thought by examining and critiquing representations of the non-western ‘other’.

Chapter 10: Relating - Families

Key Theorists
  • Michael Bittman and Jocelyn Pixley
  • Talcott Parsons
  • Karl Marx
  • Judith Stacey

Key concepts
Nuclear Family

A concept integral to Talcott Parsons’ structural-functionalist view of the family. Parsons’ nuclear family involves two parents and their offspring, living together and who are connected by blood, by marriage or through adoption.

This concept is incredibly important due its impact on normative gender roles within the family and the gendered division of labour. Traditionally, men would perform instrumental roles outside of the home to earn money, resources and so on. In contrast, mothers are charged with affective and caring roles within the household.

Sociologists have long examined that the nuclear family is far less common than the media, advertisements and popular culture would try to have us believe. The notion of the nuclear family is also important to the marxist and feminist critiques of the family too.


Micro-sociologists are in contrast to those who examine broad, societal institutions and how they interact with society. Instead, they examine the interplay of individuals and how they conceive and construct social life. In studies of family, they would examine the interrelation of individual family members and the way in which the family is structured accordingly.

See: ‘Microsociology’ from Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology


Discussion questions
1. Domestic Labour in the Family
  • Why do women do most of the domestic labour?
  • Do you think this trend will reduce over time?
  • Are young women happy with this?
Today Tonight: Gender Divide in Housework
  • Who does the housework in your household?
  • Do you think it is fair that women do more housework on average than males?
  • Why do you think this happens?
Huggies “Dad-vert”
  • Do these images seem at all strange to you?
  • If they do, what does this say about the power of normative gender roles within the family?

2. Technology and the Family
  • What technologies support the most common forms of family in contemporary society?
  • How have cell phones changed family life?
  • Can you imagine a technology that would do away with the nuclear family?

‘Technology can both improve and hinder family relationships’
  • How do you view technology’s role in your family?
  • In what ways can technology be beneficial?

Critical thinking exercise

Strange Arrangments: The New Sex - Open Marriage
The video covers a family who are married with two children and live happily together. However, after the children have been put to bed the husband and wife will often go on dates and stay over with other lovers - both are aware, and happy with the situation. The children are still looked after, raised and loved by both their parents - and are surrounded by other open marriage families in a community which creates a positive environment, they believe.
  • What do you think about this arrangement? What other alternative family arrangements can you think of?
  • Why do you think new forms of family such as this have developed in modern society?
  • How would you analyse this from a micro-sociological perspective? Do you think it works well on a micro level?
  • Do you think that this family seems to have liberated itself from oppressive patriarchy or a gendered divide in the home?
  • Do you think that this could be a modern twist on the ‘nuclear family’?

Online content
Judith Stacey

Judith Stacey discussing her research on various parental arrangements.

Interview with Judith Stacey discussing her new book about family structures around the world.


University of Cambridge: ‘Culture, Communication and Change: Summary of an investigation of the use and impact of media and technology in our lives.’

‘Poverty Poses a Bigger Risk to Pregnancy Than Age’
The problem of income inequality often gets forgotten in conversations about biological clocks.

How Do We Define A Family?
Brian Powell, Catherine Bolzendahl, Claudia Geist, and Lala Carr Steelman look at how Americans conceptualize “the family” that is, not what they think about their own families, but what they think counts as a family. Which groups or living arrangements do they include in the definition of “family,” and who is excluded?

Your Presence is Requested at Our Divorce Party
Are divorce parties just another excuse to throw a party? A Hallmark created celebration? Or just another example of celebrity excess? Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how a divorce party may be an opportunity for a couple to transition into their future roles as ex-husband and ex-wife.

Suggestions for further reading
Agger, B. and B. Shelton (2007) Fast Families, Virtual Children: A Critical
Sociology of Families and Schooling
(Boulder: Paradigm). This book explores families and flux, especially the impacts of accelerating technological change.

Gabb, J. (2008) Researching Intimacy in Families (Basingstoke: Palgrave). In this monograph the focus in intimacy and sexuality in families. This is of key interest to students with an interest in micro-sociology.

Kelly, A. and D. H. J. Morgan. (2011) Rethinking Family Practices (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan). This is arguably the standard ‘text’ for the study of contemporary families. The main focus is on ‘doing’ family.

Chapter 11: Feeling - Emotions

Key Theorists

  • Georg Simmel
  • Max Scheler
  • Norbert Elias

  • Bryan Turner
  • Brian Massumi
  • Ulrich Beck
  • Zygmunt Bauman
  • Arlie Hochschild

Key concepts
  • The relationship between capitalism and ‘reason’
  • Collective sentiments (‘we-feeling’)
  • Authentic vs. Inauthentic emotions
  • Foundational and secondary emotions
  • The social construction of emotions
  • Cultural relativism
  • Emotional labour
  • Risk society and the ‘climate of fear’
  • Technology and emotion

Discussion Points

Discussion Point 1 - Feelings at Work - Emotional Labour
Video: West Philadelphia coffee attack
  • Has the shift from manufacturing to service based economies increased the emotional aspect of work?
  • Have you had a negative emotional experience at work?
  • What kind of jobs would make the greatest demand on emotion management, and why?
  • Should employers be able to buy our feelings or is this capitalism taken too far?
  • What kinds of emotions might experiences of social inequality be likely to generate?

Discussion Point 2 - Living in a fearful World. (Terrorism and the Media)
Video: Brian Massumi ‘Ten Years of terror’
  • How important are old and new media in generating mass public fear?
  • Should governments create harsh legislation to control suspected terrorists?
  • What might be the social costs of an overdeveloped concern with personal safety, as for example in helicopter parents who hover anxiously over their children?
  • Are terrorism and the logic of pre-emption, “producing reality” in our lives?

Critical thinking exercise

Seneca on Anger
- Emotions have been an object of study for centuries. Stoic philosopher Lucuis Annaeus Seneca (ca. 4 BC – AD 65), writing from the Roman Imperial period, focused many of his writings on emotions, most notably anger, of which he claimed was ‘the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions’. Seneca makes a separation between reason and emotion, as witnessed in much western thought; however he provides an interesting account of the relation between emotional responses and rational constructs.

This highly accessible clip is an episode from Alain de Botton’s documentary series, ‘Philosophy: A guide to happiness’.

Are emotional responses such as anger the result of optimism?

Are emotions rational or irrational? What is the relationship between rationality and emotion?

References/Further reading

Katja Vogt (2011) ‘Seneca’ Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (sourced December 4, 2012-

Seneca’s Essays Volume 1 (including ‘On Anger’) are available online at-

Youtube videos/documentaries and related videos
Sex with robots documentary (Levy, 262)

Bryan Turner on human frailty.

Norton Sociology - Emotional Labour - What is it like to be a model?


Chapter 12: Believing- Religion

Key theorists

  • Max Weber
  • Karl Marx
  • Emile Durkheim
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Rodney Stark
  • Peter Berger
  • Ninian Smart
  • Steve Bruce
  • Jonathan Sacks

Key concepts
The social function of religion
Social Cohesion
Disenchantment and Rationalisation


Discussion Points
Discussion point 1 - What is it to believe?
Video clip: Richard Dawkins: 'Somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist'
  • Are belief and knowledge the same thing?
  • How does experience inform belief?
  • Name 3 things that you really believe in. These may be religious or secular beliefs.
  • What are the most significant social institutions that shape your beliefs?
  • When we talk about belief, what kind of question should we be asking? Are we concerned with primarily ontological questions? I.e. is the thing we claim to believe in real (God, fairies, global warming...) or are they epistemological questions? I.e. how do we know what we know? Are our beliefs justified? What constitutes a justified belief?
  • Dawkins claims that religion is “infectious: it's something that grips the mind in the same way as a virus grips the body.” Do you agree? Why/why not? Is there an inverse relationship between religiosity and intelligence as Dawkins seems to suggest?

Discussion point 2- Religion and the Internet
Video: Kenya’s televangelism ‘empire’
  • Are the worshiping masses seen in this clip being exploited or are they, “being freed from every bondage” as one woman claims?
  • How would different theorists of religion view the popularity of televangelists in Kenya? Would Marx, Durkheim or Weber provide sufficient explanations? Or would a contemporary theorist such as Rodney Stark better explain the situation?
  • Why would people who are already religiously active in their actual communities also be engaged in religious virtual communities?
  • Will new technologies hasten the decline of religions in modern society?
  • Does the internet promote religious tolerance?

Critical thinking exercise
Rational choice theory and religion.

In this chapter we were introduced to the ‘secularization thesis’ and the empirical problems presented to it. Rodney Stark for example, argues that religiosity amongst populations has remained around the same level for quite some time. Basing his theory on a logic of market exchange, Stark argues that various religious groups, dealing in ‘supernatural compensators’, are in competition with one another for recruits. Members of these groups have made a rational decision to exchange their time or money for these compensators and their memberships are conditional on the returns they get from this investment. (See Young, 1997, Ch. 10)

In presenting religious people as rational agents, Stark avoids pigeonholing them as irrational or brainwashed, as many hardline atheists do (for example Dawkins). More recently however, critics have argued that applications of market models to sociological questions of religion, such as Starks, operate on a narrow conception of rationality, whilst providing legitimation for the capitalist logic of which they work within.

In such a critique, Peter van der Veer warns against the problem of uncritically accepting a dichotomous conceptualisation between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ society. This dichotomy posits ‘traditional’ culture as being centered in the ‘the mystery of transcendence’ whilst ‘modernity’ is based on a Weberian assumption of demystification and market logic. Van der Veer argues that in applying this type of polarization, a sociological theory is likely to ignore the transcendent and mysterious nature of money itself.


American philosopher William James (quoted in van der Ver, 2012) claimed that religion is founded on the subjective experience of an invisible presence. To what extent can we liken the experiences of the Global Financial Crisis and various cycles of economic boom and bust as the ‘subjective experience of an invisible presence’?

Today’s world is marked by increasingly complex and widespread networks of exchange and communication (see Chapter 15: Globalizing). To what extent are rational actors aware of these complexities? Is a degree of mystery inevitable in markets?

Adam Smith claimed that an open market is guided by an ‘invisible hand’, can we liken the belief in the ‘invisible hand’ of the market to a type of religious belief? What might make this belief more ‘rational’? What connection would this question have with the ‘rationalization of society’?

References/Further reading:

Goldstein, Warren (ed.) (2006) Marx, Critical Theory and Religion: A Critique of Rational Choice (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers)

Russell, M. (2011) “Philosophy of religion in a secular age: some programmatic reflections.” In Quadrio, P. and Bubbio, P. D. (eds.) The Relationship of Philosophy to Religion Today. Cambridge Scholars Press, pp 2-25.

Stark, R. (1999) ‘Secularization, R.I.P’. Sociology of Religion, 60 pp. 249-73

Young, Lawrence (ed.) (1997) Rational Choice theory and Religion: Summary and Assessment (New York: Routledge.)

Van Der Veer, Peter (2012) ‘Market and money: a critique of rational choice theory’ Social Compass, 59 pp. 183-92.

Youtube videos/documentaries
Peter Berger on Religion and Modernity

Berger discusses the reason for his eventual dismissal of the secularization thesis.

Inside Story- The Cult: Heaven's Gate-

This documentary investigates an incident in 1997, where thirty-nine members of the San Diego-based cult “Heaven’s Gate” committed mass suicide. They intended to reach an alien spacecraft which they believed to be following Comet Hale-Bopp, which was at that time brightly visible in the night sky.

The Bedroom Commandments-The Bedroom Commandments is a 90 minute documentary about homosexuality and faith.


Chapter 13: Educating

Key thinkers

Key concepts
The Cartesian subject- (what is the Cartesian subject?)

Epistemology - Epistemic Blindness
State education and globalization
Distinction between ‘education’ and ‘schooling’
Distinction between psychological and sociological approaches to education
The ‘knowledge society’ discourse


Discussion Points
Discussion point 1 - What is education for and who decides?

Video: Student Protests at University of Auckland
  • Who should be involved in the decision making process about the type of education and/or schooling for a specific community?
  • Are there any groups in your country who reject the mainstream educational system? If so, what are their justifications?

Discussion point 2- The PSIA international study
Video: PISA - Measuring student success around the world
  • What ideological presuppositions can you extrapolate from this video?
  • Is education simply ‘the learning of skills’?
  • What are the knowledge and skills necessary for full participation in society? How do we know that and who should decide?
  • What are the reasons and imperfections of trying to impose a standard curriculum and qualifications worldwide?
  • Given the results in 2009, what could the first four contexts (Shanghai, Korea, Finland and Hong Kong) have in common that could explain their success? Do you think the survey results can predict whether learners in these countries are better prepared to face future challenges than learners in other countries?

Critical thinking exercise

1. Structure or agency?

In this chapter we saw the way in which social problems are constructed as being those of the individual rather than the social structure.
  • Are social inequalities the problem of individuals?
  • Should less well off individuals seek more education to improve their lot?
  • How would the social structure limit the possibilities of educated people?

People with a tertiary education are likely to earn a higher wage. Should the government pay for education as a social good? Or should individuals pay for their own education as a private good?
  • How do people in your country feel about tertiary education?
  • Is there a difference in the government’s responsibility to primary and secondary education as opposed to tertiary? If so why?
2. What is thinking? Addressing our ‘epistemic blindness’

In this chapter (chapter 13, figure. 1) we were presented with a map of configurations for thinking about education in society. One of these configurations was represented by a question mark and pointed towards the unknown.
  • How can we think the unknown?
  • What possibilities are there for alternative thought?
  • Are we completely limited by the ways of thinking we inherit (enlightenment thought, the Cartesian subject, etc...), or can we break away from this and discover new ways of thinking?

Further reading:

Martin Heidegger (1976) ‘Lecture 1” in What is Called Thinking?, trans. J. Glenn Gray. New York: Perennial [ISBN 0-06-090528-x]

Mgombelo, J. (December 2003). Cartesian Subjectivity and the Question of Knowledge Educational Insights, 8(2). [Available:]

Youtube videos/documentaries
RSA Animate - Sir Ken Robinson - Changing Education Paradigms

Paulo Freire - An incredible conversation

Lecture Series- Jason Campbell - Paulo Freire Pedagogy of the Oppressed


Chapter 14: Straying- Deviance

Key theorists
  • Emile Durkheim
  • Talcott Parsons
  • Robert K. Merton
  • Gabriel Tarde
  • Edwin H. Sutherland
  • George Herbert Mead

Key concepts
Social Control
Strain theory (Merton)
Deviant ‘adaptations’
Differential association
Differential identification
Labeling theory
The dialectical relationship between control agents and deviants


Discussion Points
Discussion Point 1 - The Deviant Rich?

Video: Crisis of Credit Visualized
  • Is this an appropriate way for the rich to become richer?
  • Why is the stealthy suite-level deviance of the upper echelon and corporate rule breakers far less feared and, when discovered, typically less punished than are less costly street-level property crimes, such as burglary or robbery?
  • Is all deviance simply a matter of individual subjective evaluation?
Discussion Point 2 - The Politics of Deviance labels
Video: Anti-gay in Uganda (BBC)

Part 1:
Part 2:
  • Why do different forms of sexual expression attract such different social and legal responses?
  • Should sexuality ever be the subject of legal regulations and, if so, how and why?
  • Is it possible to see changes over time in the ways in which different sexual practices are seen as deviant or normal?
Update: Uganda to pass anti-gay law as ‘Christmas gift’ (13 Nov, 2012)-


Critical thinking exercise

Deviant careers: The Graffiti Subculture

This chapter we considered the mutually constitutive relationship between deviance and social control. We also considered how the social construction of deviance is connected to unequal power access and hegemony. Discussions about ‘deviant careers’ can give insight into these relationships through highlighting the similarities between those activities labelled ‘deviant’ and those activities deemed socially acceptable.

Nancy Macdonald’s The Graffiti Subculture: Youth, Masculinity and Identity in London and New York offers and extensive ethnographic investigation into the graffiti subculture across two cities. Macdonald aims to show the experience of this subculture is a highly structured one, involving accepted subcultural goals, values and a relatively linear career path. Through interviews with graffiti writers at different stages of their career Macdonald exposes the strong emphasis this subculture places on competition, fame and a dedicated work ethic. Furthermore, Macdonald highlights the weight these writers give to subcultural norms around career development; various career stages allow writers to be engaged in differing activities depending on the work that they have already put in, as one of Macdonald’s interviewees explains:

If you haven’t done your roots, tagging and stuff like that, you can’t really call yourself a graffiti writer. You’ve got to go through the whole process, it’s like anything, you have to go up the ladder... (‘Steam’ in Macdonald, 2001, 75)

For some writers, this career path culminates in their work shifting from an illegal unpaid activity to a legal paid activity, as they gain commercial employment through advertising or gallery work. However, to hold such a position writers must first ‘make their name’ through illegal activity.


Can we think of the experiences that individuals within the graffiti subculture are involved in as careers? What ways are they similar or dissimilar to socially accepted career paths?

Is there any relationship between our societies emphasis on private property rights and the social construction of graffiti as ‘deviant’?

Rather than seeking material gain, Macdonald uses the concept of a ‘moral career’ to describe a graffiti career path. A ‘moral career’ focuses on non-monetary goals such as public esteem and the establishment of a solid conception of self. What other ‘moral careers’ do people engage in? Can football hooliganism (Marsh et al, 1978) and drug use be considered a form of ‘moral career’?

References/Further reading:

Becker, Howard S. (1973) Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, . New York: Free Press.

Macdonald, Nancy (2001) The Graffiti Subculture: Youth, Masculinity and Identity in London and New York. Houndmills: Palgrave. ISBN: 0333781902

Mailer, Norman and Jon Naar (1974) The faith of graffiti New York: Icon i! ISBN 0061961701

Youtube video/documentaries

J is for Junkie

The Decrepit (Warning: contains graphic footage)

Filmed in the summer of 2011, 'the Decrepit' is a micro-budget project (less than $5k) that was made to provide an empowering voice to the people of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and raise youth awareness of drug use and homelessness.

Confessions of an Undercover cop (Warning: contains some graphic images of police brutality)

The inside story of Mark Kennedy, the police officer who spent eight years undercover as a dedicated activist, having infiltrated the environmental movement and Europe’s left-wing extremist political groups. Whilst undercover, Kennedy was beaten by a group of officers during a protest and suffered from a dislocated spine. The story provides an interesting point of discussion for deviance, identity and the politics of deviant labels.

American Pimp (An example of ‘deviant innovation’?)


Chapter 15: Globalizing

Key theorists
  • Karl Polanyi
  • Karl Marx
  • David Held
  • David Harvey
  • Ulrich Beck
  • Immanuel Wallerstein
  • Robert Gilpin

Key concepts
  • The Nation State
  • Globalisation(s)- Economic, Political, cultural and Ecological
  • Globalisms- Market, Justice and Religious
  • The global imaginary
  • World Systems Theory
  • Neoliberalism
  • Polanyian ‘backlash’
  • The ‘rise of the rest’

Discussion Points
Discussion point 1 - Market, Justice and Religious Globalisms

Video: News Coverage of 1999 Seattle protests.

Is the idea of market, justice and religious globalisms compelling?
  • What elements of each are apparent in the world today?
  • Who are the main winners and losers associated with the three globalisms Steger and Wilson discuss? (Market, Justice and Religious)

Discussion Point 2 - Globalization and Imperialism

Video: Al Jazeera ‘Will the pacific trade deal protect workers’?

Is monopoly capitalism in the form of transnational companies becoming more influential?
  • What constraints are placed on the nation-state through globalization (e.g. international treaties, organizations, etc...)? Whose interests do these constraints serve?
  • Is resistance to imperialism based mainly in the Third World or are the chickens coming home to roost in the imperialist powers?

Critical thinking exercise
Globalization, climate change and environmental degradation (see also: Chapter 18 ‘Sustaining: The Environment)

Over the past few decades, a growing consensus has emerged that global warming is one of the most serious and urgent problems that humanity faces today. The signing of the ‘kyoto protocol’ and various climate change summits, including the United Nations Copenhagen conference of 2009, all support the idea that global warming is now recognised as a reality that governments must address.

Currently, the global average surface temperature is about 0.8 degrees warmer than in pre-industrial times. At the Copenhagen conference, governments committed to limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees. This is the number at which global warming begins to radically perpetuate itself as further greenhouse gasses are released, i.e from melting permafrost, and a violent carbon feedback loop begins. At 5 degrees warming it is possible that the worlds’ population could be reduced by 90% as most of the earths surface becomes uninhabitable.

Critics of multilateral agreements, such as the Copenhagen accord, argue that it is a case of ‘too little, too late’ and that radical change must occur, and occur soon, if we are to avoid ecological disaster this century. The rapid development of emerging economies such as India and China further perpetuates the crisis, in fact, China now accounts for one-quarter of global emissions. This is however of no surprise to scientists who have long since observed a clear relationship between growth and carbon dioxide emissions (see Li, 2011).

Such concerns have lead many to question the possibility of adequately addressing global warming within the current economic system (i.e emissions trading schemes etc...). Calls for a ‘steady-state system’ with zero growth and a more robust global authority are amongst some of the ‘radical’ solutions that are increasingly becoming recognised as possible ways to avoid the worst of what climate change may bring.

In an article outlining the current climate situation, Chinese economist Li Minqi urges the reader, “for humanity’s sake, end capitalism before we are ended by capitalism.” Yet at the same time, and as the now-popular saying goes, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism...


Consider these quotes from Li:
Can environmental degradation be solved within the capitalist system or does it require radical systemic change?

What kind of global cooperation is required to address this issue? Is the current state system sufficient for this level of cooperation or will it require centralised global governance?

Is growth the problem?

References/Further Reading:

Clark, Brett and Richard York (2008) ‘Rifts and Shifts: Getting to the Root of Environmental Crises’ Monthly Review 60:6. pp. 13-24.

Li, Minqi (2011) ‘The 21st Century Crisis: Climate Catastrophe or Socialism’ Review of Radical Political Economics 43. pp. 289-301.

Youtube videos/documentaries
RSA animate - David Harvey ‘The crises of capitalism’

David Harvey - The end of Capitalism? (Address at Penn Humanities Forum, 30 Nov 2011)

Film: The Crisis of Civilization

Experimental Film: ‘Life in a Day’

On the 24th of July, 2010, thousands of people around the world uploaded videos of their day to take part in the ‘Life in a day’ project. With over 4500 hours of footage edited into a 90 minute film by director Kevin Macdonald, ‘Life in a Day’ provides a compelling launchpad for discussions about the nature of culture and communication in an increasingly globalized world.


Chapter 16: Working

Key theorists
  • Max Weber
  • Karl Marx
  • Friedrich Engels
  • Zygmunt Bauman
  • George Ritzer
  • Harry Braverman
  • Michael Buraway
  • Arlie Hochschild
  • Paul Du Gay
  • Yiannis Gabriel

Key concepts
The ‘recalcitrant’ worker
Scientific Management
Control and resistance
The ‘aesthetic of consumption’


Discussion Points
Discussion Point 1 - Cyborg Workers and the Generation Gap

Video: Noam Chomsky on consumerism and control
  • Are we moving toward an ‘aesthetic of consumption’ as Bauman argues, or is this the result of increasingly sophisticated ‘techniques of control’ such as those described by Chomsky?
  • In what ways do new technologies contribute to the generation gap?
  • Is the future for young people for them to become cyborg workers and insatiable consumers?
  • Are the old fashioned concerns about ‘industrial relations’ of any relevance today?

Discussion Point 2 - “All that is solid melts into air”

Video: Immanuel Wallerstein on the end of Capitalism
  • How important is work going to be to people in the next couple of decades?
  • Is it easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism?
  • What might the end of capitalism involve and what would be the role of work?

Critical thinking exercise
Prosumer capitalism and Web 2.0

In this chapter we considered the extent to which contemporary society was moving from a ‘work ethic’ to an ‘aesthetic of consumption’. Recently, famed American sociologist George Ritzer (2010, 2012) has questioned the dichotomous separation between ‘consumption’ and ‘production’, arguing that this was to some extent a product of the Industrial Revolution. Calling this a ‘false binary’, Ritzer and Jurgenson (2010) use the concept of ‘prosumption’ to both highlight this uneasy divide and to explain some of the more ambiguous aspects of production and consumption witnessed in our contemporary world.

Though Ritzer and Jurgenson assert that ‘prosumption’ has remained a constant feature of society since pre-industrial times (see also- Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave, 1980) they argue that the emergence of Web 2.0 in late modernity “facilitates the implosion of production and consumption” (2010, 19). The reason Web 2.0 facilitates this ‘implosion’ is in its ability for users to produce content. Wikipedia, Youtube and Facebook are often cited examples drawn from a continually expanding list. Ritzer and Jurgenson (ibid.) argue that, due to this infrastructural potential, Web 2.0 has strongly contributed to the development of the ‘means of prosumption’.

Prosumption on the Web often involves people working for little or no remittance and incentives range from gaining experience that might lead to future paid work or the simple enjoyment of the task. Whilst some read this as a heightened form of capitalist exploitation, Ritzer and Jurgenson assert that prosumers are able to resist efforts by organizations to control and exploit them.


Work experience has for a long time been seen as a good way to improve future work prospects, in what ways does the ‘prosumption’ discussed above differ from this?

Are Web 2.0 prosumers being exploited? Does the unpaid labour they participate in improve future prospects and/or bring them enjoyment or are they experiencing a form of ‘false consciousness’?

Is the analytical separation between production and consumption a useful conceptual tool for sociologists or is this a historically situated ‘false binary’?

References/Further Reading:

Ritzer, G. Paul Dean and Nathan Jurgenson (eds.) (2012) ‘Special Issue: The Coming Age of Prosumption and the Prosumer.’ American Behavioural Scientist. 56:4

Ritzer, G and Nathan Jurgenson (2010) ‘Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer’ Journal of Consumer Culture. 10:1 pp. 13-36

Toffler, A. (1980) The Third Wave. New York: William Morrow.

Youtube videos/documentaries
David Harvey - The end of Capitalism? (Penn Humanities Forum, 30 Nov 2011)

Film: Human Resources

George Ritzer on the importance of McDonaldization to students

George Ritzer on the future of McDonaldization


Chapter 17: Consuming

Key theorists
Classical (on human nature)
  • Thomas Hobbes
  • John Locke
  • Jean Jacques Rousseau
Classical (sociological)
  • Thorstein Veblen
  • Karl Marx
  • Herbert Marcuse
  • Theodor Adorno
  • Emile Durkheim
  • Max Weber
  • Zygmunt Bauman
  • Pierre Bourdieu
  • George Ritzer
  • Jean Baudrillard
  • Ulrich Beck
  • John Urry
  • Anthony Giddens

Key concepts
  • Social Stratification
  • Distributive Justice
  • Identity and choice
  • Conspicuous Consumption
  • Power and rationalization
  • Liquid vs. Leveling perspectives
  • Pseudo individualism

Discussion Points
Discussion point 1 - Consuming Coffee

Video: ‘Champagne’ from ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’
  • Do commodities like coffee and the pleasures they give us hide the ugly truth of capitalist society?
  • What elements of the Levelling and Liquid perspectives are found in the discussion of coffee? Can we see similar elements at play in the video clip?
  • If coffee disappeared tomorrow what would take its place?

Discussion point 2 - Conspicuous Consumption and the Aspirational Ethos
Video: Al Jazeera ‘Hundreds arrested as London riots spread’!

What role does conspicuous consumption play in contemporary society?
  • Can conspicuous consumption and the aspirational ethos survive in times of austerity?
  • Can religion be a commodity?

Critical thinking exercise
A matter of human nature?

In this chapter we were introduced to three distinct classical theories of human nature, those of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. While Hobbes asserts that humans are naturally self interested and competitive, Locke and Rousseau want to emphasise our tendency toward cooperation and mutual respect. As Chris Rojek notes in the chapter:

These contributions are anything but irrelevant to the study of consumption today. They introduce the themes of the external regulation of behaviour, self regulation, optimal consumption and the common good that, as we will see presently, remain central.

Though it is clear that an element of truth is at play in each theory, how we perceive human nature will affect our outlook on issues of control and agency in society as well as how we perceive the structure of society itself. It is for these reasons that questions of human nature, and the thoughts of these classic theorists, are indeed worthy of consideration.


Are humans naturally competitive and self interested? or are we more directed toward cooperation and mutual respect?

What would a non-competitive society look like?

What does present day consumerism tell us about human nature? Is consumerism a result of our human nature or the result of capitalist manipulation?

References/Further reading:

Hobbes, T. (1651) Leviathan (London: Penguin)

Locke, J. (1689) Two Treatises of Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Pojman, L (2006) Who are we?:Theories of human nature (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press)

Rousseau, J. (1762) The Social Contract (London: Penguin)

Stevenson, L. and D. Haberman. (1998) Ten theories of human nature (New York: Oxford University Press)

Youtube videos/documentaries
RSA Animate - Renata Salecl on Choice

Surplus: Terrorized into being consumers- Mixed media documentary about consumerism in society.

Big Ideas That Changed The World - Consumerism


Chapter 18: Sustaining- The environment

Key theorists

  • Karl Marx
  • Friedrich Engels
  • Thorstein Veblen
  • Max Weber
  • Karl Polanyi
  • Anthony Giddens
  • Naomi Klein
  • Rudolph Bahro
  • Andre Gorz
  • Serge Latouche
  • Barry Smart
  • Ulrich Beck
  • Slavoj Zizek

Key concepts
  • Growth
  • Conspicuous waste
  • Production and Consumption
  • Consumerism
  • Emissions transfer
  • Progressive seizure
  • The Anthropocene

Discussion Points
Discussion point 1 - e-Waste

Video: Greenpeace ‘Where does e-waste end up?’

Are there senses in which pollution and waste are outsourced?
  • Do you throw out things that still work?
  • Why do you upgrade?
  • Do people in the west consume too much?

Discussion point 2 - Welcome to the Anthropocene

Video: TED talks - Will Steffen - The Anthropocene

What is the major cause of the anthropocene: population growth or the capitalist economic system?
  • Which environmental problems do you regard as being most important?
  • Can humans fix the problems they have created? If so, how?

Critical thinking exercise
Social Imaginaries: Economic and Ecological Crises

Bob Jessop (2012) defines a ‘social imaginary’ as “a simplified, necessarily selective ‘mental map’ of a supercomplex reality”, furthermore Jessop claims that “[t]hese maps are never purely representational accounts of an external reality: many actually help to construct the reality that they purport to map.” Social imaginaries offer both an interpretation of a situation as well as its potential solutions. Any given situation can be defined by a complex of competing, contradictory and often mutually constitutive imaginaries that seek to assert their own dominance whilst marginalising competitors.

Though crises do indeed ‘open space’ for competing interpretations and responses, Jessop (2012) is careful to assert that these imaginaries do not compete in a vacuum, rather they are necessarily and inextricably connected to power structures and other ‘extra-semiotic’ factors including technology and institutional arrangements. Therefore:

Powerful narratives without powerful bases from which to implement them are less effective than more arbitrary accounts that are pursued consistently by the powerful through a de facto exercise of power. Indeed, periods of crisis illustrate forcefully that power includes the capacity to not have to learn from ones own mistakes. (Jessop, 2012, 20)

Framed in this manner, it is perhaps unsurprising to see that current responses to both economic and ecological crisis are informed by what Jessop calls ‘capitalocentric economic imaginaries’ that are linked to the dominance of neo-liberal economic models and serve to effectively marginalise other competing economic and ecological imaginaries.


It is often said that the University is ‘the critic and conscience of society’, does this mean that academics have a responsibility to bring marginalised imaginaries ‘out into the open’? In what respect does the University support hegemonic imaginaries?

What role does the media play in the dissemination of imaginaries?

References/Further Reading:

Clark, Brett and Richard York (2008) ‘Rifts and Shifts: Getting to the Root of Environmental Crises’ Monthly Review 60:6. pp. 13-24.

Jessop, B. . (2012) ‘Economic and Ecological Crises: Green new deals and no-growth economies’ Development 55:1 pp. 17-24.

Li, Minqi (2011) ‘The 21st Century Crisis: Climate Catastrophe or Socialism’ Review of Radical Political Economics 43. pp. 289-301.

Youtube videos/documentaries
Anthony Giddens on The Politics of Climate Change

Slavoj Zizek: The Delusion of Green Capitalism

RSA Animate - Slavoj Zizek - First as Tragedy, Then as Farce.

The Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change: Vital Water: Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Tuvalu

The Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change: Vital Food: Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Fiji

The Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change: Vital Roads: Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change, Epi, Vanuatu.

New Zealand 100% pure?

If a Tree Falls


Chapter 19: Connecting - Technology

Key theorists

  • Emile Durkheim
  • Marcel Mauss
  • Karl Marx
  • W. Brian Arthur
  • Leo Marx
  • Harvey Molotch
  • Bruno Latour
  • Paul Virilo
  • Jean Baudrillard
  • Michael Bull
  • Guy Debord
  • Sherry Turkle

Key concepts
  • Totems (Durkheim)
  • Material-semiotics (actor-network theory)
  • The folding of time and space
  • Society as a connection
  • The ‘architecture of isolation’
  • Urban chill
  • The ‘tethered’ self

Discussion Points
Discussion Point 1 - Technology and Surveillance

Video: Al Jazeera - The UK ‘snooping’ plan: Security vs. privacy

Do you live in a surveillance society? Is this a bad thing?
  • What private data of yours do you think third parties have access to?
  • What can strangers learn about you from looking online?

Discussion Point 2 - Tools are us

Video: The early show ‘Baby plays with ipad, is frustrated with paper mag’
  • What technologies do you feel closest to? Why?
  • In what ways do technologies contribute to your identity?
  • Are there technologies that you can’t live without?

Critical thinking exercise
In Transit: Cars and suburbia as ‘technologies of isolation’.

In this chapter we were introduced to the idea that iPods and cars can be thought of as ‘technologies of isolation’, allowing individuals to block out others when going about their daily lives. Michael Bull’s (2007) study (that we looked at in the chapter) gives us insight into how such strategies of isolation are employed by iPod users. Whilst iPod users generally try to block out society from within, when considering the car we can start to see another form of isolation at play: isolation from society itself.

In an article entitled ‘Film Noir and Automotive Isolation in Los Angeles’, Paul Mason Fotsch highlights the many ways in which the simultaneous development of both the automobile and suburbia in the Los Angeles setting during the 1930’s and 1940s contributed to forms of social isolation and anonymity. Exemplifying this through an analysis of two films, Double Indemnity (Wilder and Chandler, 1944) and Sunset Boulevard (Brackett and Wilder, 1950), Fotsch shows that this dual development, along with the urban design decisions of policy makers, created a binary of freedom and isolation that hinged on the automobile.

The vast suburbia that had come to characterise Los Angeles by the 1930’s could only have been made possible with the development of mass produced and affordable automobiles as these allowed those living in suburbs to commute from home to work, as well as from home to shopping malls, supermarkets etc... Whilst this allowed middle-class families to live in large comfortable homes in quiet and safe neighbourhoods, this level of reliance on the automobile meant a potentially distressing sense of isolation, ennui or even imprisonment for those without access to a car (Fotsch, 1995).

This is best highlighted by Fotsch’s discussion of the female lead in Double Indemnity: ‘Phyllis’. As a middle-class housewife in the 1930’s (the time in which the film is set) Phyllis’s isolation is largely attributable to dominant patriarchy and a highly gendered labour market, however without a car, Phyllis is practically trapped at home and feels deeply isolated, “He won’t let me go anywhere. He keeps me shut up.” (Wilder and Chandler, 1944 in Fotsch, 2005). In the film, Phyllis’s distress leads her to conspire to kill her husband and receive his life insurance. This seems to Phyllis her only means of escape from both her physical isolation at home and her economic dependency on her husband (Fotsch, 1995).

Though focusing on themes from the 1930’s and 1940’s, Fotsch’s article provides an excellent discussion point from which to consider ‘technologies of isolation’ today: Urban sprawl has become a feature of many cities around the world since the time in which Double Indemnity was set. Whilst some have developed extensive public transport infrastructure, others have not, and often policy makers still see automobiles as the primary means of transportation.


How much do people rely on cars in your city? Do your policy makers place an emphasis on public transport or do they focus on roads for cars?

Cars are expensive to purchase and maintain and therefore are not available to everyone, can transport policies that privilege roads over public transport be considered a form of discrimination?

Is this type of domestic isolation a thing of the past or can we still witness it today?

References/Further Reading:

Debord, G. (1994) The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone)

Fotsch, P (2005) ‘Film Noir and Automotive Isolation in Los Angeles’. Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies. 5:1 pp. 103-25

Turkle, S. (2011) Together Alone: why We Expect More from Technology and Less from each Other (Basic Books: New York).

See also:

Double Indemnity (Wilder and Chandler, 1944)

Sunset Boulevard (Brackett and Wilder, 1950)

Youtube videos/documentaries/extras
British Museum- A history of the world in 100 objects (podcast)

RSA Animate - Evgeny Morozov - The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens?

Video: Ericsson ‘On the brink of a networked society’*

*This video was sponsored by telecommunications giant ericsson, how do you think this has helped influence the way these issues are framed?

Chapter 20: Communicating - The Media

Key theorists
  • Marshall McLuhan
  • Harold Lasswell
  • Emile Durkheim
  • Karl Marx
  • Friedrich Engels
  • Antonio Gramsci
  • Theodor Adorno
  • Max Horkheimer
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Edward Herman
  • Robert McChesney
  • David Croteau and William Hoynes
  • Denis McQuail
  • Bernard Berelson
  • Ferdinand de Saussure
  • Paul Lazarsfeld
  • Stuart Hall

Key concepts
  • The ‘medium’
  • Power and Control
  • Hegemony
  • The Culture Industry
  • Legitimation
  • Manufactured consent
  • Individualism
  • Content Analysis
  • Semiotics
  • The ‘cultivation effect’
  • Salience transfer
  • New social media and ‘prosumers’
Discussion Points

Discussion point 1 - Who counts?

London filmmaker Michael Story made a short video about the mismatch between crime as presented in TV reports and the reality of crime in the UK. Michael argues that TV reports misrepresent how common crime is, where it occurs, and who is most likely to be involved in violent crime; in so doing, they reinforce stereotypes about race, ethnicity, class, and criminality:
  • Do the media represent different ethnicities, genders and social classes equally and fairly?
  • What sorts of events are particularly newsworthy?
  • What media do you consult on a regular basis and why?

Discussion point 2 - The rise of new social media

Video: TV3 News NZ ‘NZ link in Dutch party riot’
  • Are new social media empowering?
  • Who controls social media?
  • What are the negative aspects of social media?
Critical thinking exercise
New technologies and cultural production: The case of digital sampling.

Since the commercialisation of digital music production hardware and the subsequent emergence of music production software throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the production of music has become increasingly relieved from its once necessary connection to the ‘culture industry’. This is due to the emergence of new affordable production technologies such as hardware samplers and personal computers that have come to replace traditional and costly studio based production methods. The development of Web 2.0 has further severed this connection as independent artists now have the means to distribute and promote their own products, effectively bypassing historically dominant industry mechanisms. Whilst the cultural industry arguably still dominates the domain of mass culture, these developments have allowed sometimes transgressive ‘underground’ music to flourish.

As with many new technologies (see Chapter 19- connecting: technology) the use that particular technologies are put to often cannot be determined by their producers. The case of digital sampling is an excellent example of this. Most commonly associated with hip-hop or rap music, the act of ‘sampling’ involves taking a clip from an original track and re-using it to create something new. Clips taken range from short drum ‘breaks’ to chord progressions or even entire choruses. This activity has introduced new and difficult questions into the realm of cultural production and copyright as efforts to delineate ‘fair use’ from copyright infringement fail to reach any meaningful consensus.

Drawing on Walter Benjamin and Michel Foucault along with contemporary work in the field, Thomas Schumacher (1995) argues that copyright law, with regard to music sampling, is premised on an incoherent or even contradictory account of authorship inherited from culturally specific accounts of western property law. This, argues Schumacher, marginalises more dialogic forms of cultural production, such as hip-hop, in which intertextual reference becomes an intrinsic part of the process. Schumacher advocates for the freedom of unauthorised sampling, claiming that this is an essentially political question that must be viewed within the complex of capitalist social relations.

More recently David Hesmondhalgh (2006), through a detailed analysis of the sampling practice employed in Moby’s highly successful 1999 album ‘Play’, has pointed to problems of the representation of non-western musicians that may stem from ‘unethical borrowing practices’. Hesmondhalgh claims that in some forms of sampling practice:

“...there is an ambivalent appropriation of the perceived features of another culture. The samples pay tribute to that other culture, even celebrate it, but on terms which ultimately reduce the complexity of that appropriated culture so something crude and simplistic.” (Hesmondhalgh, 2006, 63)

Hesmondhalgh urges for the ethical complexities of sampling practice to be given careful consideration, arguing that the appropriation of cultural sources in sampling practices be exercised with respect and that original copyright owners should be appropriately accredited and compensated for their contribution.


Do you agree with Schumacher that copyright law should relax around sampling? Or do you agree with Hesmondhalgh’s position that sees copyright as an important tool to promote ethical borrowing?

Is sampling a new form of dialogical cultural production? or are digital samplers essentially stealing others music for their own gain?

With regard to sampling, who benefits from current copyright law? Is it the artists? Copyright owners? Record labels? Who misses out?

What role has new technology played in the changing face of contemporary popular music? Are these new technologies contributing to the decline of the record industry?

References/Further Reading:

David Hesmondhalgh (2006) ‘Digital Sampling and Cultural Inequality’ Social & Legal Studies 15:1, pp. 53-75

Paul D. Miller (ed.) (2008) Sound unbound: sampling music and digital culture Cambridge Mass. : MIT press.

Suzannah Mirghani (2011) ‘The War on Piracy: Analyzing the Discursive Battles of Corporate and Government-Sponsored Anti-Piracy Media Campaigns’ Critical Studies in Media Communication 28:2, pp. 113-134

Thomas Schumacher (1995) ‘This is a sampling sport’: digital sampling, rap music and the law in cultural production’ Media, Culture & Society 17, pp. 253-273

Youtube videos/documentaries
RSA Animate - Evgeny Morozov - The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens?

Networked Society, On the Brink

Marshall Mcluhan Full lecture: The medium is the message - 1977 part 1 v 3

Gramsci & Hegemony | Peter D Thomas | Counterforum | London | 3 May 2010

Partially Examined Life podcast - Semiotics and Structuralism - Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Derrida