American Sociological Association

Living Theory: Principles and Practices for Teaching Social Theory Ethnographically

This article details the principles and practices animating an "ethnographic" method of teaching social theory. As opposed to the traditional "survey" approach that aims to introduce students to the historical breadth of social thought, the primary objective of teaching ethnographically is to cultivate students as participant observers who interpret, adjudicate between, and practice social theories in their everyday lives. Three pedagogical principles are central to this approach, the first laying the groundwork for the two that follow: (1) intensive engagement with manageable portions of text, (2) conversations among theorists, and (3) dialogues between theory and lived experience. Drawing on examples from our experiences as graduate student instructors for a two-semester theory sequence, we offer practical guideposts to sociology instructors interested in integrating "living theory" into their own curricula by clarifying how each principle is put into action in course assignments, classroom discussions and activities, and evaluations of student learning. We conclude by encouraging sociology departments and instructors to consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of offering social theory courses built around in-depth readings of and conversations between social theorists and the social world.


Herring, C., Rosaldo, M., Seim, J., Shestakofsky, B.





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