1. What are three differences between the ways in which laypeople and social thinkers theorize?
2. Compare and contrast the two theoretical orientations that will be discussed in this textbook: grand theories and theories of everyday life. What do these theories have in common? How are they different? Which orientation do you find most compelling?
3. Explain two political reasons why some of the sociological theories you will read in this book have become part of the canon of social thought. How has multicultural social theory attempted to widen this canon?
4. Think about Karl Marx’s theory and discuss its relevance in the 21st century. What do the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transformation of Chinese communism say about Marx’s theory? Why have Marx’s ideas persisted in contemporary sociological theory? Why are Marx’s ideas, in Ritzer’s view, more relevant than ever?
5. Describe each theorist’s (Weber, Marx, Durkheim) views on long-term social change. Be sure to discuss each theorist’s view of the mechanisms and/or processes that contribute to social change (e.g. class conflict or the division of labor). Compare, contrast, and critically examine each. Use the vocabulary of each theorist, and define the key concepts as you proceed. Find another student and debate the merits and shortcomings of each theory.
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1. What are Max Weber’s four types of rationality? Give a brief definition of each type.
2. What did Karl Marx mean by exploitation? Be sure to use the concepts surplus value, capitalist, proletariat, and capitalism.
3. Each of the theorists discussed in Chapter 2, Classical Theories I, pointed to a central social problem of modern societies (for example, anomie). Write an essay describing each theorist’s central social problem. Which theorist, in your opinion, was right? You may argue for more than one theorist, but demonstrate how their ideas are consistent with one another.
4. How did the Protestant ethic contribute to the rise of modern capitalism? Be sure to include a discussion of other relevant concepts in your answer.
5. Compare and contrast Durkheim’s mechanical and organic solidarity. Be sure to include a discussion of how collective conscience, law, and anomie work in each kind of solidarity.
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1. Is a boyfriend or girlfriend a type of interactant? How does defining a person as such affect the forms of interaction you would have with that person?
2. How does the size of a group affect its stability and the strength of its influence on group members?
3. How does conspicuous consumption serve the interests of business and industry?
4. In Mead’s theory, describe the concept of significant symbols and discuss how they are important for understanding Mead’s conception of the self.
5. Ritzer thinks we have become obsessed with the self. Provide an example of how your self has become your project.
6. Use Simmel’s concept of the tragedy of culture to think about the Hollywood film industry. According to Simmel, the growth of objective culture outpaces the ability of individuals to produce, absorb and control it. It seems to have become increasingly difficult for Hollywood to produce original films—remakes, sequels, and formulaic genre films are common. Can Simmel’s concept of the tragedy of culture explain why there is so little original material coming out of Hollywood? What social forces contribute to this situation? Can it be transcended? What are the consequences for filmgoers and the artists involved?
7. Are conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure important in contemporary society? Have you ever engaged in conspicuous consumption or conspicuous leisure? What kinds of symbolic goods do you use to increase your social status? Do your classmates use the same goods or are their different standards and strategies for increasing status in particular subcultures? Is shirking and shiftlessness among college students a kind of conspicuous leisure? Thinking about your mom and dad, what kinds of symbolic goods do your parents (or your friend’s parents) use to increase their status? What are the social consequences of this behavior for individuals and society as a whole?
8. Use examples from professional football to think through Mead’s idea of the game stage of development. Why must offensive players be able to take the role of their teammates in order to gain yardage? How do defensive players learn to take the role of others—quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs—in order to play their role more effectively? What kinds of gestures do defensive players interpret as they play? How can offensive players manipulate their gestures to fool the defense? After an interception, how does the definition of the situation change? Why is symbolic interactionism particularly useful for analyzing the complex, free-flowing action of a football game? Can students think of any social situations where the interpretive abilities of football players might be useful?
9. How can Simmel’s ideas about distance and space help us to better understand the problem of border control and illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border? Is the U.S.-Mexico border “indefinite” or “indistinct”? What are the historical and social reasons for this? Do Simmel’s ideas help us to better understand the reactions of nativists to illegal border crossings? Are Simmel’s ideas about strangers useful for understanding relations between citizens and illegal immigrants?
10. Use Veblen’s ideas about business and industry to think about the deindustrialization of the American Midwest. How does a business perspective contribute to deindustrialization? What kind of effects has this had on community and craftsmanship? Free-market capitalism is commonly associated with productive strength in American political discourse. Does Veblen’s perspective and the deindustrialization of the American Midwest invalidate this argument?
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1. Imagine that you want to become a doctor in American society. How would a structural functionalist explain your desire or motivation to enter this profession?
2. What do you think is the manifest function of higher education in America? What are two latent functions of attending college?
3. Compare and contrast the positions of structural functionalism and conflict theory on social stratification. Which perspective do you think best captures the way the American stratification system operates? Why?
4. Use examples from the economic system to explain the four characteristics of an autopoietic system.
5. Use examples from the automobile industry to describe the four types of differentiation.
6. Explain the functions of social stratification from the point of view of Davis and Moore. How do we decide which occupations are functionally most important and how does society arrive at an appropriate reward for each. Turn your attention to some specific occupations: U.S. president, corporate CEO, professional basketball player, doctor, electrician, teacher, and stay-at-home mother. Discuss whether each of these positions is justly rewarded for their contributions. What kinds of criticisms can you offer of Davis and Moore’s perspective?
7. Think about Merton’s theory of the relationship between social structure and anomie. How is American society’s emphasis on material success functional? How might it be dysfunctional for people born into lower socioeconomic classes? What kinds of adaptations are people who value material success but lack the means to achieve it likely to make? Can this theory help explain criminality, homelessness, countercultural values?
8. Think about different systems, such as the economy, the family, religion, education, healthcare, or the military. Pick one and analyze it according to the characteristics of Luhmann’s autopoietic system. What are the basic elements of these systems? How do they organize their boundaries and internal structures? In what way are they self-referential? Are these systems closed? Do they use a specific code? After the groups have completed this task have them present their analyses to the entire class.
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1. In what ways does Post-Fordism differ from Fordism?
2. Use an example to illustrate how lengthening dependency chains affected people's everyday behaviors in Europe from the 13th through the 19th centuries.
3. For what reasons does the juggernaut of modernity always threaten to rush out of control?
4. Why did the critical theorists shift the focus of Marxism from the economy to culture?
5. The critical theorists believed that culture pacifies the masses. Using what you know about mass culture today, do you support or reject this explanation?
6. Think about the ideas of the Frankfurt School; do you buy the things you see advertised in magazines, how much television do you watch, and do you ever talk about what they see on television with their friends? Discuss the media's impact on the way people think and act. Does new media like the Internet, with its “interactive” component, have a different effect? Critique of the concept of the culture industry.
7. Do you think the civilizing process is still going on today? Collect examples from fashion, table manners, use of offensive language, and violence. Do these examples mean that we are becoming more or less civil? How can you explain these changes? Are dependency chains becoming longer or shorter? If you think that chains are becoming shorter, refer back to Durkheim's concept of anomie and the decline of the collective conscience under organic solidarity in industrial societies. Is civility is a valuable goal for a free society?
8. Marcuse, Habermas, and Giddens are all concerned with the consequences of the spread of instrumental rationality for modern society. As a review of the chapter, make a chart to compare views of instrumental rationality. For each theorist consider the following: Where does instrumental rationality take root? What forces propel it forward? How successful is it? What are its consequences for individuals? What is the potential for reason to reassert itself?
9. Discuss Ulrich Beck’s concept of a risk society. How well does it capture your experience? Think about topics such as terrorism, nuclear power, disease, environmental degradation, etc. How do these topics relate to risk?
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1. What is the metaphor that Goffman uses to describe social life? Discuss this metaphor and how Goffman uses this metaphor to understand the self.
2. What is a breaching experiment, and what is such an experiment supposed to reveal to researchers? Invent and describe a breaching experiment of your own.
3. How does Homans understand the relationship between psychological behaviorism and exchange theory?
4. Compare and contrast exchange theory and rational choice theory.
5. What are the eight fundamental principles of symbolic interactionism?
6. Goffman’s dramaturgical theory draws on symbolic interactionism to argue that human beings are symbol users who cooperatively construct shared meanings, and continually struggle to display idealized self-images to valued others. Coleman’s rational choice theory draws on neoclassical economics to argue that human beings are rational individuals who seek to maximize personal interest and gain. These two theories hold very different assumptions about human nature. Discuss these different assumptions and the implications that these differences have for the way that we understand each other, and treat each other in everyday life. Which of these two theories best reflects your own experience and assumptions about human nature.
7. Think about the different kinds of accounts that you give of yourself. How do you account for your behavior in scenarios such as: getting caught cheating on a boyfriend or girlfriend, coming late to class, or explaining to one’s parents why one is moving away from home. Provide examples the way you regularly talk about yourself and your own personalities. These are accounts that people regularly draw upon to explain their position in a situation, and what other actors should expect of them. Note that almost all conversations include some form of accounting practice.
8. Consider the difference between fieldwork and theory. How might a theorist of everyday life use one to enrich the other? Are there any differences between sociological fieldwork and simple reportage? How does theory inform fieldwork?
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1. Describe how power fits into exchange relations and provide an example.
2. Provide an example of the double hermeneutic and explain why social scientists should be aware of it.
3. What are the four types of capital described by Bourdieu? How do these function to determine the position of agents in a field?
4. Bourdieu uses the term “distinction” to suggest how tastes serve to create a coherent hierarchy of class culture. Write an essay describing how American tastes for food and drink are stratified by class. Be sure to draw attention to issues that Bourdieu thinks are relevant.
5. Write a brief essay discussing the role of power-dependence in exchange theory.
6. Integrating macro and micro sociological theory is one of the animating ideas of late twentieth-century social thought. Review Durkheim’s classical sociological theory and answer the following questions: a. Where do social facts come from? b. How do social facts control people? c. How much freedom do they think they have to make their own choices in spite of the constraints of culture and structure? These are the kinds of questions that animate the quest for an integrative social theory.
7. Exchange theory is an economic theory of social behavior in which individuals with resources strive to rationally maximize their exchange relationships. Develop an economic example of exchange theory based on a group of stamp collectors. How might power figure into such a scenario? Develop a less overtly economic situation such as a family. How would power figure in this scenario? Scale exchange theory up to the macro-level and develop an example of how exchange theory might affect foreign relations. Finally, which scenario do you feel exchange theory is best at explaining and whether you think there are other types of scenarios that exchange theory might not be able to explain.
8. Anthony Giddens and Pierre Bourdieu each created a theory that attempts to overcome the antinomies of agency and structure. Diagram the main elements of each of the theories on the blackboard. Then compare and contrast Giddens and Bourdieu. What are the salient differences between the two theories? Do they accomplish what they set out to do?
9. Bourdieu’s book Distinction was based on research conducted in France in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Do you think Bourdieu’s ideas about class culture apply in the 21st century U.S. If not, what has changed the ways that consumer culture differentiates? Counterpose Bourdieu’s perspective with the idea of mass culture. Do you think that mass tastes are more prevalent than class tastes. Finally, what role might creativity and ingenuity have in making consumer culture meaningful.
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1. Compare and contrast the views of one variant of gender-difference theory with one variant of gender-inequality theory on the origins of gender difference and inequality.
2. Compare and contrast the views of liberal feminists and socialist feminists on social change.
3. How do feminist theorists define gender? How is it different from other ways of defining gender?
4. How does feminist theory differ from other sociological theories presented in your textbook? Choose another theoretical perspective and say how feminist theory could be used to revise and extend that theorist’s work. (For example, How could a feminist perspective be used to better understand Merton’s theory of anomie?)
5. How can intersectionality
theory be used to make sense of your experiences in educational institutions?
Has your social location caused you to experience privilege
or oppression? From what sources?
6. Using Table 8.1 as a guide, make clear the distinctions between theories of gender difference, gender inequality, gender oppression, and structural oppression.
7. Define the key concepts of intersectionality theory. Give examples of each from your own experience. Discuss the merits of intersectionality theory’s agenda for social change.
8. Using the author’s definition of feminist theory on page 195, how does feminist does differ from theories discussed in other chapters. Discuss how feminist theory contributes to social theory in general and vice versa.
9. Use the contemporary application of feminist theory to the Terry Schiavo case domestic violence, and/or marriage stats (all found in the lecture notes) to discuss how a feminist standpoint can aid in understanding contemporary social issues.
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1. Describe three ways in which postindustrial societies differ from industrial societies.
2. What are the three major tenets of a sociological theory of postmodernity identified by Bauman?
3. Define hierarchical observations, normalizing judgments, and examinations. Provide an example of how each of these is exercised in a prison system.
4. Image that you are visiting Las Vegas or Disney World. Use the following postmodern concepts to describe your experience in one of these new means of consumption: simulation, implosion, and phantasmagoria.
5. Explain why some feminist theorists are critical of postmodernism. Do you agree or disagree with their critique? Why?
6. Find postmodern magazine or television advertisements. Provide a postmodern interpretation of these advertisements, utilizing concepts such as simulation, implosion, spectacle, phantasmagoria, and dromology.
7. Discuss the differences between a modern society and a postmodern one. What do you think are some positive and negative characteristics of living in a postmodern society compared to a modern one? Do you feel liberated or insecure about the fact there is no overarching ethical code in a postmodern society? Are you enchanted by the new means of consumption or do you want the face-to-face interaction provided by older means of consumption? Are speed and technology a convenience or a burden?
8. Watch the movie Bladerunner. Discuss the postmodern world this movie depicts. How are the replicants in this movie “hyperreal” or “simulations” of human beings? Do you believe that with the increasing endocolonization of the human body in our society that we are all in jeopardy of becoming some form of replicant? What aspects of Foucault’s theory of governmentality, especially his three forms of disciplinary power, are portrayed in this movie?
9. Use Foucault’s techniques of governmentality and Ritzer’s description of increasing surveillance in everyday life to discuss surveillance as a tool of governmentality. Have you encountered surveillance or data collection in their perambulations? Has knowing that you are being watched affected their behavior? What kinds of “techniques of resistance” might you use to interfere with gratuitous surveillance?
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1. Compare and contrast the three cultural theories of globalization on the issue of homogenization.
2. What is the globalization of nothing? Why is nothing so useful for globalization?
3. Is a clash of civilizations inevitable? What can be done to make this clash less likely?
4. Who are the transnational capitalist class? Why do they prefer each other to their countrymen?
5. What is framegration? Choose one emerging global process and explain how it is framegrative.
6. In what ways is the Arab news network Al-Jazeera an example of globalization?
7. The homogenization/heterogenization debate. Prepare one example of homogenization or one example of heterogenization. How can you make sense of these conflicting facts.
8. Think about the different actors who participate in or are affected by globalization. How does the social or geographical standpoint of these actors affect your experience of globalization? Name ways in which globalization has touched your life. Are you a winner or a loser?
9. Thinking about Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and Hardt and Negri’s Empire, discuss the causes and consequences of the war on terror and the Iraq invasion. How would Huntington characterize the war? How would Hardt and Negri?
10. Use Ritzer’s McDonaldization thesis as the basis of a discussion of why McDonald’s has been so successful and popular around the world. What are some of the benefits of spreading McDonaldization to other countries? What are some detriments?
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Robert O. Keel.
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