Social Problems syg 2010, Section 07F8

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Social Problems

SYG 2010, Section 07F8

Spring 2015

MWF, 9th period (4:05-4:55pm), TUR 1315
Social order is not part of the "nature of things," and it cannot be derived from the "laws of nature." Social order exists only as a product of human activity.”

- Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann

Sarah Boeshart

Office Hours (TUR 3353 or in 3357):

Mondays: 1:30-3:30pm

Wednesdays: 5-7pm

Fridays: 2-4pm

Course Description: This course introduces the sociological perspective on the social construction of social problems (focusing on the West, the US in particular). Daily, we are inundated with news reports that that call our attention to numerous social problems such as crime, prejudice, poverty, and health. Indeed, many people rely on the media to get their information about such problems. Unfortunately, this is not the most accurate way to get information, since news reports typically ignore the systematic causes of these problems. As a result, social problems are reported and received as isolated incidents happening at the individual level, rather than questioning social arrangements that lead to such issues. Further missing from the picture is the discussion as to why some social problems receive attention when others do not.

In this course, we will extend our understanding about social problems beyond media sound bites or statistical understandings of problems. Rather, we will study social problems from a social constructionist point of view by asking questions such as How does something become a social problem?, What are the social causes of the problem? and What is being done about the problem?
Course Objectives: By the end of the course, students should be able to:
1. Recognize the difference between personal and social problems.

2. Analyze the nature and characteristics of a number of social problems.

3. Understand the social constructionist approach to social problems.
Required Texts: There is a required textbook for this course; below you will find its citation and ISBN number. In addition, you are required to purchase two other books whose information is also below. All other readings will be posted on Canvas for you to download. You may find it helpful to print out the articles and bring them to class, but this is not required. The course website can be found through Canvas at this web address: The course site contains the assigned readings for each week, as well as grades and other class updates.
Katz, Jackson. 2006. The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, INC.


Leon-Guerrero, Anna. 2014. Social Problems: Community, Policy, and Social Action. 4th Ed. Los Angeles: Sage Publications


Tatum, Beverly Daniel. 1997. “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” And Other Conversations About Race. New York: Basic Books.
Attendance Policy: I am not requiring your presence, i.e. attendance for this class is not mandated. However, if you miss assignments you will not be allowed to make them up. The class is structured around discussion, so materials will be presented in class that are not in the readings. I completely understand that there may be circumstances that can prevent you from attending every class. Accommodations will be made for excused absences only. If you find yourself in a situation that requires you to miss class, it is your responsibility to let me know beforehand, and it is your responsibility to get all notes or material from class. You may be asked to provide written confirmation of your situation (e.g. a doctor’s note, coach’s note, etc.).

UF Policies:

University Policy on Accommodating Students with Disabilities: Students requesting accommodation for disabilities must first register with the Dean of Students Office ( The Dean of Students Office will provide documentation to the student who must then provide this documentation to the instructor when requesting accommodation. You must submit this documentation prior to submitting assignments or taking the quizzes or exams. Accommodations are not retroactive, therefore, students should contact the office as soon as possible in the term for which they are seeking accommodations.
University Policy on Academic Misconduct: Academic honesty and integrity are fundamental values of the University community. Students should be sure that they understand the UF Student Honor Code at

Failure to comply with these standards will result in disciplinary action. Students caught cheating on any assignment for this class will receive zero credit for the assignment, or, at my discretion, a failing grade for the course. Incidents of possible cheating will be reported to the Dean of Student’s Office. Please be sure you understand: I take academic dishonesty very seriously and consider it a personal affront to me and the academic community. I am required to report all cases of plagiarism.

For all written work for this course, you must properly cite all sources (1) directly quoted, (2) paraphrased, or (3) consulted in any fashion (including the course readings). Sources include all printed material as well as the Internet. Proper citation means using a standard citation format and in this class that is the American Sociological Association (ASA) style. It is also considered plagiarism if you merely rework source material, placing an author's thoughts in other words without contributing your own ideas.

Unless otherwise noted in the course syllabus or on the assignment sheets, all work that is required for this course is to be your own work. As such, sharing answers with other students is a violation of the Academic Integrity Code. You must receive prior permission from me if you want to submit a paper or part of a paper that you have written for a previous class.

Gordon Rule: This course is not designed to fulfill a university writing requirement (Gordon Rule).
Course Evaluations: Students are expected to provide feedback on the quality of instruction in this course based on 10 criteria. These evaluations are conducted online at Evaluations are typically open during the last two or three weeks of the semester, but students will be given specific times when they are open. Summary results of these assessments are available to students at

Grading Policies:

Grading Distribution:

95 -100 = A

88 - 89 = B+

78 - 79 = C+

60 - 69 = D

90 - 94 = A-

82 - 87 = B

80 - 81 = B-

72 - 77 = C

70 - 71 = C-

< 60 = E

A Excellent--demonstration of superior work (written and oral) in fulfillment of course requirements; demonstration of mastery of course concepts and strong critical analysis skills.

B Good--shows a solid foundation (written and oral) in fulfillment of course requirements; demonstrates knowledge of course concepts but needs more critical analysis

C Satisfactory--(written and oral) in fulfillment of course requirements; follows instructions but only does the bare minimum

D Poor--assigned work is not satisfactory or not completed and/or student fails to meet the minimum assignment requirements.

E Failure--fails to meet course requirements defined in the syllabus.

**Please note that your final grade in the course reflects a cumulative performance over the duration of the entire course. You must be diligent throughout the course to ensure a successful final grade. As such, I do not offer extra credit, “re-dos, or make up work. This means that I will not entertain pleas for extra credit at the end of the course. In addition, I will not accept any late work. Due dates for the course assignments are not negotiable. Failure to meet them will result in a grade of zero for that assignment.

Paper format: All papers turned in need to be in times new roman 12pt font, double spaced, ASA citation style, 1” margins, no wasted space, stapled, page numbered, and without a cover page.

Course Requirements

While you are not required to attend classes, you are required to frequently participate in the course by contributing to discussions. Final grades in the course will be derived from the following assignments:

Requirement % of grade Points Possible

Discussion 5% 40

Personal vs Social 4% 32

The F Word 3% 24

Book Essay 10% 80

Response Papers (2) 5% 40

Soc Auto Bio 17% 136

Final Presentation 6% 48

Final Paper 25 % 200

Final Exam 25% 200

Course Grade 100% 800
Discussion: You are required to be an active participant in the classroom learning environment. Your discussion grade will be judged upon your participation in in-class activities, discussions, and general attentiveness and preparedness. Inconsistent performance and a lack of consideration for fellow students/professor, will result in a lower participation grade. Part of your ability to participate in class discussions depends on your reading. Your participation grade will decrease significantly if you are continually unprepared for class discussions.

Each of us is personally responsible for creating a safe learning environment. No one “owns” a particular knowledge or experience and thus cannot force that onto someone else. Nor, can anyone devalue the knowledge and experience of someone else. Our course is based upon active student participation and on the sharing of ideas and experiences. Some of the topics we’ll be discussing this semester are controversial. Discussion is encouraged, and engaging with people who have different views than your own is one of the best ways to learn. It’s NOT okay, however, to be disrespectful to other students or to your instructor. No personal attacks- in any form- will be allowed in this classroom, period. This is done to ensure that the classroom environment remains friendly, open, and comfortable for everyone.

Personal vs. Social Essay: (January 16th) As so much of social problems falls into politics, in this assignment you will embody a politician and give a speech to your constituency. In this speech you will you will differentiate between a social and personal problem as well as the difference between a social problem and a social issue. You can do this however you want, but you will go beyond the definitions of each to illustrate how they are different. Drawing from Mills, you will explain how to differentiate between the three stances (personal problem, social problem, social issue). Further details will be provided in class.
The F Word: (April 8th) This assignment is designed to further your understanding of the myriad of issues surrounding fat studies. You will be given several personal anecdotes, and you will be required to respond to them through the social and medical model of weight studies. Further details will be provided in class.
Book Essay: (March 20th) Over the course of the semester, you are required to read two academic books. You will choose either Tatum’s or Katz’s and attempt to answer one of the myriad of questions they raise throughout it. This is to take the format of a traditional academic essay and not a book report. You are using the book as a starting point, but your thesis will revolve around answering or furthering one of the questions the scholar raised. Further details will be provided in class.
Response Papers (total of 2): Throughout the semester, you will be expected to respond to the “optional readings/viewings” associated with the required course readings. These response papers should be no longer than 2-4 pages in length (double spaced). The response should identify and connect the “optional readings/viewings” to the substantive area of the week, and provide a critical evaluation of the material. Specifically, the paper should give a brief summary of the material and discuss how it informs our own understanding of the social problem. Finally, each response should include 2 discussion questions. Each review will be worth 20 points. You are required to speak about each reading assigned as well as the additional material. These are to be turned in on or before the Friday of that week. You cannot turn in a response paper after that week has passed, which means if you will not be in class on the Friday, you will need to turn it in before that.
Sociological Autobiography: (February 27th) To facilitate complex reflection and evaluation of the field of social problems, each participant in the class will be expected to write a 4-6 page (double spaced) sociological autobiography. A sociological autobiography focuses on your interactions with society (in this case, a social problem) and explains how you understand society through the academic medium of sociology. These sociological autobiographies are expected to incorporate class material and readings. However, you are allowed to bring in outside reading as well. They are allowed to be organized in any fashion, but should not be a simple regurgitation of the class readings. While this is a personal exploration, they must remain sociological in nature. Further details will be provided in class.
Final Paper and Presentation: (April 13th/22nd) Each member of the class will be expected to write a 8-10 page (double spaced) essay reviewing a social problem of their choosing and present it to the class. This provides an opportunity to do further independent research as well as develop public speaking skills. You may choose to focus on any social problem at any point of time in any region. (It does, however, have to be different from the social problem you examined in your sociological autobiography.) You are welcome to use primary sources; however, it is expected that you will be using mostly secondary research to describe the problem. In this paper, you are expected to outline the social problem, situate it within literature of the field, and discuss what further research you think needs to be done to better understand and resolve the social problem.
Final Exam: (May 1st) This will be cumulative exam designed to test how much you learned about social problems over the course of the semester. This will cover the course readings, lectures, class discussions, and any required videos.
Course Schedule
Disclaimer: This syllabus represents my current plans and objectives.  As we go through the semester, those plans may need to change, but I will make sure you are given plenty of notice. No worries.
Week One: Introduction to the Course

January 7th: Course syllabus and Welcome

9th: The Sociological Imagination

Chapter One from C. Wright The Sociological Imagination (

Week Two: Power, Privilege, Inequality and their Interactions with Social Problems

January 12th: White Privilege

  • Robert Jensen. “White Privilege Shapes the U.S.”

  • Peggy McIntosh. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”

14th: Erasure and Inequality

  • Either Yamada-Invisibility in an Unnatural Disaster or Crenshaw “Mapping the Margins…”

January 16th: No Class

Personal Vs. Social Essay Due by 5pm on Canvass
Week Three: Poverty/Class

January 19th: No Class: Happy MLK Jr. Day

21st: Fallacy of the American Dream

  • Reach Chapter 2 SP

23rd: What Falls between the cracks

  • Excerpts from Shipler, The Working Poor

  • Skim Lewis, The culture of Poverty

For the Paper:

  • Play

  • And read Excerpts from The Glass Castle

Week Four: Educational Inequality

January 26th: The Shame of the Nation

  • Read Chapter 8 SP

28th: Race and Education

  • Scott and Leonhardt’s Shadowy Lines that Still Divide,

30th: Gender and Education

  • Kane “Education and Beliefs about Gender Inequality”

For the Paper:

  • Watch Precious (2009)

  • Or Freedom Writers (2007)

  • Or Sister Act II (1993)

Week Five: Racism and Racial Inequality

February 2nd: Why Race, Class, and Gender Still Matter

  • Read Chapter 3 SP

4th: Black Feminism

  • Collins, Black Feminist Thought, Chapter 4

6th: Institutional racism

  • Eliasoph, “Everyday racism…”

For the Paper:

  • Watch Crash (2004)

Week Six: The Social Construction of Race

February 9th: What is Race?

  • Omi and Winant’s Racial Formation

11th: How do we talk about Race

13th: Understanding Race

  • Tatum contined

For the Paper:

  • Read excerpts from The Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry, Blessing the Boats, for colored girls, and Macnolia

Week Seven: Sexism/ Gendered expectations

February 16th: Sex and Gender

  • Read Chapter 4 SP

18th: Gendered conceptions

  • Excerpts from Judith Butler, Gender Trouble

20th: The Fragility of Masculinity

  • Excerpts from Connell’s Masculinities

For the Paper:

  • Read excerpts from The Vagina Monologues

Week Eight: Heterosexism/homophobia

February 23rd: What is Sexual Orientation

  • Read Chapter 5 SP

  • Ingraham “Heterosexuality: Its Just Not Natural”

25th: Busting the Binary/Labels

  • Read: Rust “Sexual Identity and Bi-Sexual Identities; The Struggle for…”

27th: Sex, HIV/AIDS, Gay Stigma

  • Adam “Constructing the Neoliberal Sexual Actor: Responsibility and Care of the Self in the Discourse of Barebackers.”

Sociological Autobiography Due

For the Paper:

  • Watch Milk (2008)

  • Or Brokeback Mountain (2006)

  • Or Philadelphia (1993)

Week Nine: Spring Break

March 2nd, March 4th, March 6th: Be Safe, Happy Spring Break
Week Ten: Hate Crimes

March 9th: An Introduction to Hate Crimes (LGBTQ)

  • Jenness “Social Movement Growth, Domain Expansion, and Framing Processes: The Gay/Lesbian Movement and Violence against Gays and Lesbians as a Social Problem”

11th: Racial and Ethnic Hate Crimes

  • Be familiar with: FBI report on Hate Crimes (

  • Watch The Two Towns of Jasper (2002)

13th: Who is a victim?

  • Jenness “Managing Differences and Making Legislation: Social Movements and the Racialization, Sexualization, and Gendering of Federal Hate Crime Law in the U.S., 1985-1998”

For the Paper:

  • Watch Boys Don’t Cry (2004)

Week Eleven: Bullying/ Violence Against Women

March 16th: Bullying

  • Watch Bully (2012)

18th: What is Violence against Women

  • Have finished Katz

20th: What do we do about VAW

  • Katz (cont)

Book Essay Due

For the paper:

  • Watch Speak (2005)

  • And Read excerpts from A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer,

Week Twelve: Gendered Violence

March 23rd: IPV

25th: Sexual Assault and Rape

  • Read Rose “Rape as a Social Problem: A Byproduct of the Feminist Movement”

27th: Rape (Cont)

  • Read Baron and Straus “Four Theories of Rape: A Macrosociological Analysis”

For the Paper:

  • Watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

  • OR A Time to Kill (1997)

  • OR The Accused (1991)

Week Thirteen: Prison Industrial Complex

March 30th: Crimes and Justice

  • Read Chapter 13 SP

April 1st: PIC

  • Read Schlosser, “The Prison-Industrial Complex”

3rd: Prisons and Abolitionism

  • Read excerpts, Angela Davis, Are prisons obsolete?

For the Paper:

  • Watch War On Drugs - The Prison Industrial Complex (1999) on Youtube

  • Or: Any 2 episodes of Orange is the New Black

Week Fifteen: Bodies

April 6th: Thinness

  • Read excerpts from Bordo, Unbearable Weight

8th: Fatness

  • Saguy, and Gruys “Morality and Health…”

The F Word Assignment Due

10th: Bodies and Ability

  • Read Wendell, Who Is Disabled? Defining Disability

For the Paper:

  • Watch Eve Ensler’s Ted talk (

  • And Stella Young’s Ted Talk (

Week Sixteen: Student Presentations

April 13th: Final Presentations

Final Paper Due

15th: Final Presentations

17th: Final Presentations
Week Seventeen: Student Presentations (cont)

April 20th: Final Presentations

22nd: Final Presentations
May 1st 10am-12pm Final Exam

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