Fall 2020  |  SOC 3003 Section 001: Social Problems (31555)

Class Component:
3 Credits
Grading Basis:
Student Option
Instructor Consent:
No Special Consent Required
Instruction Mode:
Completely Online
Class Attributes:
Online Course
Times and Locations:
Regular Academic Session
09/08/2020 - 12/16/2020
Tue, Thu 11:15AM - 12:30PM
Off Campus
Enrollment Status:
Open (54 of 55 seats filled)
Also Offered:
Course Catalog Description:
In this course, we will engage in a sociological examination of major social problems facing the contemporary US and abroad. We explore the origins and causes of different social problems, seek to understand how they impact individuals, groups, and the society as a whole, and evaluate solutions. We ask how an issue becomes defined as a "social problem," discuss the social construction of reality and deviance, and consider the primary frameworks under which societies have organized their responses to different social problems. prereq: 1001 recommended; soc majors/minors must register A-F
Class Notes:
This course is completely online in a synchronous format. The course will meet online at the scheduled times. Click this link for more detailed course information: http://classinfo.umn.edu/?phili191+SOC3003+Fall2020
Class Description:

How and why is Trump's administration redefining Human Rights? Why is hyperactivity a medicalized issue? How is violence in African countries (mis-)represented by the media? How did experts invent the problem of "terrorism"? How does the memory of trauma and the Holocaust travel across space and time?

These are some of the questions we will ask and answer throughout the semester.

In this course, we will investigate how social conditions become defined as social problems. We won't take for granted that an issue in our society is an objective problem (e.g. crime or terrorism), but instead, we'll focus on the process through which a social issue becomes identified as a societal concern. We will ask questions such as: What tools and tactics do claims-makers use to identify, define and articulate a problem and solutions? How are these claims articulated to a public to mobilize them for change? What are moral panics? How do social problems travel through space and time? How do different professions discuss the same problem differently?

The course is divided into three sections. First, we'll begin with an overview of the different sociological approaches to social problems. We'll specifically focus on a social constructionist perspective to help us understand how social problems emerge. Second, we'll explore the social process that allows for social conditions to become identified as social problems. In this section, we will examine how claims-makers define a social problem, communicate it with a public, and mobilize for change. We'll pay attention to how social problems are identified by different experts, throughout space and time. Third, we will use perspectives and conceptual tools we've already learned to examine contemporary social problems, including the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID-19, decolonization and indigeneity, terrorism, white supremacy, climate change, and others. The last section of the course will mostly be led by students.

Learning Objectives:

By the end of the course students should be able to:

1. Understand various theoretical perspectives, especially the social constructionist perspective, on social problems.

2. Critically analyze the social construction of any social problem. This includes identifying interest-groups, claims, resources, and proposed solutions to a social problem.

3. Deploy analytical and conceptual tools to critically assess the debates around contemporary social problems.

4. Critically evaluate academic texts, political rhetoric, news reports, policies, artwork, and other cultural products that are used to define and respond to social problems.

5. Develop your own views about certain social problems, and identify its causes, consequences and possible solutions.

6. Publicly and compellingly present your sociological understanding about a certain social problem along with your group.


Reading Journals (25%)

Sociological Imagination Assignment (15%)

Creative Group Project (40%)

In-Class Assignments (15%)

Office Hours (5%)

Exam Format:
No Exams
Class Format:

We will meet once every week on Tuesday 11:15am-12:30pm. Lectures will be recorded and available on Canvas. Outside of the lecture period, students are expected to read and prepare for lecture, meet with their group to complete a group project, and complete individual course assignments.

Instructor Supplied Information Last Updated:
1 September 2020

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