IM for Teaching Unit III, Culture, in an Introduction to Sociology Course
Prepared by Caroline Hodges Persell, July 2008
Every leading textbook in sociology contains a chapter on culture and they discuss values and norms. After doing some reading about these concepts, you probably want students to do some exercises and simulations to gain a deeper understanding of what the concepts mean and the power they can exert over us. There is a lesson plan for one very effective one called "Breaking a Social Norm." Students can write up what they learn.
Values are another important component in culture. Robin Williams, a sociologist at Cornell University and past-president of the American Sociological Association, identified what he saw as core American values. See the lesson plan for exploring American values in the print media. Jay Howard, a sociologist and vice chancellor at Indiana University Purdue University Columbus, Indiana, suggests that students can conduct a cultural analysis of the lyrical content of popular music and gain an understanding both of qualitative data analysis and the cultural messages conveyed in popular music. He suggests drawing on a paper by Jarl Ahlkvist, "Music and Cultural Analysis in the Classroom: Introducing Sociology through Heavy Metal," from the April 1999 Teaching Sociology 27: 126-144. While this article talks about Heavy Metal music, students can conduct the same type of analysis by bringing in their own CDs and analyzing the cultural messages conveyed in their favorite music.
A very interesting and original view of culture was developed by Ann Swidler in “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies,” an article in the American Sociological Review (1986, 51: 273-286). Students could do a very small piece of qualitative research comparing the images of reality presented on TV with what they observe in public places in the world. There is a lesson plan for the in-class simulation, BAFA BAFA, students could do. It is a cultural simulation designed to foster cross-cultural awareness. Cultural differences might also be fruitfully explored using the film, “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” Attitudes of people around the world could be explored by students using international survey data collected at the Pew Center. The Life Choices game was developed for younger students but might be interesting for college students to play outside of class. The game allows students to compare their perceptions of their own values with the values demonstrated by the choices they make in the course of the game, thus becoming more aware of their own values.