Social Problems

Syllabus PDF

“The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden.”

Pierre Bourdieu

“Society is organized on the principle that any individual who possesses certain social characteristics has a moral right to expect that others will value and treat him in an appropriate way.”

Erving Goffman

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”

Noam Chomsky


Course description

This course is designed to give you a better understanding of what sociology is and does and how sociologists approach social problems. Throughout the course you will become familiar with methods and theories used by sociologists to think about social interactions, inequalities, power dynamics, and cultural assumptions that we take for granted. We will address topics such as race and ethnicity, gender, the economy, drugs, environmental issues, animals and society, and consumption and happiness. Throughout the semester we will try to understand what we “know” about those problems and where that knowledge comes from. We will look at the structural causes of social problems and will look at how we, as a society, understand and address those collective challenges.

A primary goal of this class is for you to develop critical thinking skills that will allow you to question and critique both your own ideas about the social world as well as the information brought to you by the politics, the media and activists about social problems. You should develop a better understanding of the connection between individuals and the macro structures of society that we have created and shape us.

We will mostly adopt a “constructionist” approach and talk about social construction of problems. Who decides that a specific social phenomenon is a problem? Why? Who has the ability to address problems?

Course Goals

By the end of the semester you should be able to:

  • Refer to the main sociological perspectives and theories
  • Use your “sociological imagination” to critically talk, read and write about social problems
  • Understand the social process of construction of a social problem
  • Be a better-informed student, consumer, and citizen.

Teaching Delivery

This class will incorporate several teaching methods. Each of these methods is important to the learning process in this course. Some of the more common methods to be used in this class are as follows:

Lectures: Traditional lecture will be used to assure that all students are fully aware of the information the professor wishes the students to grasp.

Guest Lectures: Three guest speakers are scheduled to join us during the semester. The guest lectures are to be highly regarded. Within a week after the presentation you will turn in on dropbox a short essay summarizing your thoughts about the presentation

 Films and Videos: Films and videos will be shown throughout the course to provide visually interpretive examples for several course topics. These screenings are to be treated as lectures for the course and should be taken as serious subject matter.

Class & Group Discussions: Even though the class is fairly large, students are strongly encouraged to participate in discussions of the daily topics by providing their insights and asking questions for clarification or rhetorical contemplation. Discussions will be conducted in small groups and as a whole class.

Teaching Perspective

My goal as your instructor is to produce an environment where we can learn the most, become better informed, question assumptions, and creatively develop ideas and strategies. I want the classroom to be an environment where dialogue can take place in an open and respectful manner. If you have something to ask or add, please do so in a manner for the whole class to hear.

Course Material

Required text

Social Problems: Community, Policy and Social Action. Ed 5. 2013. Anne Leon Guerrero.

Additional readings

All additional readings will be supplied on D2L, under the tab “week…”(refer to syllabus). It is your responsibility to make sure you can access the assigned readings that are on D2L in a timely manner. I may be adding or replacing a few over the semester (I will), so be sure to follow D2L for updates on this.


There are multiple movies to watch during the semester. I will post movies on D2L or post the link to access them online. Movies are to be taken as seriously as the readings and have to be watched before class. Some movies on the syllabus are marked as optional. I highly recommend them but they are not required. You will have to choose one movie on the syllabus to write a graded film review. You can write your film analysis on either a required or an optional movie.


There are a few podcasts to listen to before class during the semester. Everything written above about movies applies to podcasts.

Course Policies

Attendance, Participation, and Reading Assignments

Students are expected to attend every class, participate in group and class discussions, and actively engage in the course lectures. Completion of the assigned readings is absolutely critical to your success in this class and your final grade will greatly depend upon you having read, thought about, and written about the readings. The assigned readings should be completed prior to coming to class. Some classes will be spent going over readings, sometimes in detail, while others will focus on other material. You are expected to have done the reading before each class.

If you know you are missing an exam due to an athletic engagement, religious observance, court appearance, or family problem on a date that we take a test or have an assignment due please let me know at least three weeks in advance. We will discuss an alternate date. However, regardless of the reason you cannot make up writing responses or class activities that are collected for credit. If you missed a class due to a medical emergency make sure to provide a medical certificate when you come back and I will do all I can to help you catch up with the class.

Classroom Policies

  1. Never ask another student in the course a personal question. (It is up to individual students as to whether they choose to discuss their own experiences, identities, and so on in class.)
  2. Never request that another student in the class speak on behalf of a group (e.g., African Americans, Jewish People, Latino/as, Asian Americans, men, women, lesbians/gays, rape survivors, etc.)
  3. Do not use your phones, iPods, tablets, or other electronic gadgets during class (including for text messaging or checking the web for something). If you do so, I will ask you to stop once. Then I will ask you to leave the classroom.
  4. I do not allow laptop use during class. If a student has a reason that s/he believes s/he must use a laptop during class, please talk to me privately about this. To use a laptop every day, I must receive a letter from campus letting me know that you need to use a laptop every day. However, if such a letter is provided and I approve it, using your laptop for anything other than taking notes may result in you not being able to use it anymore.
  5. Kindly refrain from becoming involved in separate conversations or making comments under your breath during lecture and class discussions.
  6. You are responsible for regularly checking your e-mails and D2L announcements. That is an important way to use your fancy smartphones.
  7. In all emails to me, make sure that “SOCY 2031” is in the subject line.
  8. Expect to be challenged in this class both in the reading assignments as well as the level of engagement expected from you.
  9. You are expected to come on time and to stay until the end of the allotted period unless you have excused yourself ahead of time. Students coming and going during class time is distracting for the whole class. You do not need to raise your hand to use the restroom.
  10. Become familiar with the Desire2Learn (D2L) website immediately. If there are technical problems, please call ITS at 303-735-4357. (To access D2L, go to ; Login with you identikey; Your courses can be accessed from the “My Courses” section on “My Home.”)
  11. You are expected to attend every class. However, attendance will not be taken.
  12. Grades: Grades are awarded on the basis of quality of work turned in and what is subsequently earned; not the grade that a student feels they “deserve.” You are encouraged to see me early on in the semester if you are concerned about your grades.

There is no extra credit in this course and I will not curve the grades.

Graded work

Your final grade will consist of:

  • Exams (2*40 + 1*60 =140 points): Three exams are scheduled during the semester. The exams consist of a series of in-class short answers (2 during semester, 3 for final exam). A list of potential questions for the exam will be posted weekly so that you can prepare for the exam. All exam questions will be selected from that pool of questions. Please bring blue books for the exams.
  • Sociological analysis of a movie (50 points): Multiple movies are referenced throughout the syllabus. Some are mandatory for you to watch before class. Some are optional. Choose a movie you are particularly interested in and write a 3page essay about it. This can be done at any time of the semester and will be submitted on Dropbox. See the guideline posted on D2L (under “documents”) for more information about how to organize your essay. Even though you could write and turn in a film analysis next week, I encourage you to wait a little to become more familiar with the sociological concepts you could use in your analysis. Wait for the end of a sequence to write an essay on the topic to make sure you have a grasp on all the concepts that relate to that topic. I also suggest you wait until we have addressed the media and the social constructionist perspective (week 7) before writing your essay, but that is not mandatory and I’ll accept essays throughout the entire semester. Do not wait until the end.

Due on Monday April 17th before class on dropbox.

  • Guest-speaker reflection (3*20 points): You will turn in a one single-space page after each guest speaker presentation. Post those on Dropbox, within a week following a speaker’s presentation. There are three guest speakers scheduled. Those can be a brief summary of the key points of the presentation followed by some personal comments, critics and/or a contextualization of the presentation in the course.
  • Writing responses (100 points): these are short (one paragraph) answers written at the beginning of a class, answering a question about one piece or all of material assigned for that day.
  • Syllabus quiz (10 points): To be completed and returned to me by Monday February 6th.

Comments on Grading

I do not grade on a curve. Your final grade will reflect your success in demonstrating your knowledge of the material. To do well in this class, most of you will need to work hard and apply sustained effort over the course of the semester. That said, working hard does not guarantee an “A”. Your final grade is based on the points you have earned throughout the semester. If you find that you are not doing as well as you would like in the course, please come talk to me as soon as possible. There will be no additional extra-credit at the end of the semester to boost low grades.

If you feel that you have been given an unfair grade on an assignment, you need to write a one page response as to why you would like to appeal the grade and hand it to me no more than one week after you received the grade. When appealing the grade, you need to be aware that the grade can be raised or lowered. Therefore, I only advise you to appeal grades if you feel there is a very clear miscalculation. You are responsible for keeping all materials that have been graded and returned to you. If you cannot provide these materials, your grade cannot be appealed. University policy prohibits discussions of grades over email to protect your privacy. If you want to discuss your grade, please come to office hours or make an appointment with me.

Syllabus Quiz102.77%
Movie Analysis5013.88%
Guest Speakers Reflections6016.66%
Writing responses10027.77%


This class requires you to read, sometimes a lot. You will need to read. You are expected to read! If you don’t like reading, or don’t want to, you shouldn’t take this class. You will most likely fail the class if you don’t work on the material that has been chosen. You can be a fast reader or a slow one, have a lot of interest and time for the class, or not, but you will need to make the time, develop fast reading strategies, and read the assigned content. And while reading, you need to take notes: write down key words and concepts of each paper, the author’s argument, the cornerstone information. Keep brief, simple, and organized notes about what you read. If you read and don’t write anything you are wasting your time. And bring the reading and/or your notes to class so that you can engage with them during lecture. Although laptops are not allowed in class, I will let you look back at readings if you ask. If, by the end of each reading, you can identify the main points and explain why it has been assigned for the unit, you should be in good shape!

You also need to take notes during class. Note taking means more than passively copying the content of the slides (which may or may not be used). Slides are often titles meant to organize lectures. Most often they are not content, they have no intrinsic value and will not help you write a paper or prepare for an exam. Make good use of your time and take notes, when you read, watch a movie, or sit in lecture. Otherwise you are throwing time (and money) out of the window.

All instructors require students to come prepared to class. When you don’t, rather than a discussion, the class turns into a lecture. If you find it boring and wish your instructor involved you more in the class, then come prepared with questions about the readings, with ideas, comments, concerns. Be actor of your education, not passive recipient!

All instructors require students to come prepared to class, which, here, means read assigned articles and watch assigned movies. When you don’t, rather than a conversation the class turns into a monologue. If you find it boring and wish your instructor involved you more in the class, then come prepared with questions about the readings, with ideas, comments, concerns. Be actor of your education, not passive recipient.

Course Schedule

 Sequence/Lecture TopicReadings (textbook or D2L)Movies/Podcasts
Week 1Introduction to sociology  
M 01/16Class cancelledRich 
W 01/18Culture, meanings, and explanations.Curry“The Danger of a single story”
F 01/20Syllabus; The Sociological ImaginationMillsHidden Brain, ep. #3: Stereotype Threat
Week 2Intro to sociology: founders, theories, methods  
M 01/23Sociological theoriesLG Chap.1 (skip 20-21) 
W 01/25Sociological methodsAdler (103-119); Lovaglia; Schuman 
F 01/27   
Week 3Thinking with and about animals  
M 01/30 Irvine; Bekoff 
W 02/01 Serpell (to p.

12. Rest is optional); Jamieson;

F 02/03  Rich Roll podcast August 1st 2016: Going beyond Carnism.
Week 4The social construction of reality  
M 02/06 Gioacchino (skim) 
W 02/08 Perez (skim) 
F 02/09 Reinarman; 
Week 5Gender  
M 02/13Defining genderLG Chap.4




W 02/15“Doing gender” Wrestling with Manhood Killing us softly*
F 02/17Guest Speaker #1: MESA (Moving to End Sexual Assault) associateStanford rape case (multiple readings, spend time you deem appropriate) 
Week 6Social construction  
M 02/20Exam #1Exam #1Exam #1
W 02/22The Neoliberal Media


Lg. Ch.11


F 02/24Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics The Century of Self


Week 7Race and Ethnicity


M 02/27The social construction of race


LG chap. 3 (skip 82-89); Bruni;


Hidden Brain, ep. 28: #AirBnBwhileblack


W 03/01Privilege and color blindness


Mc. Intosh


Tim wise;

Color of fear

(watch 20’, rest

is optional)


F 03/03   

Hidden Brain, ep. #20:Remembering Anarcha


Week 8Work and the economy  
M 03/06 LG Chap. 9: 226-252



W 03/08 HerringChina Blue
F 03/10 Fishman 
Week9Poverty and Social Class  
M 03/13 LG Chap. 2: 37-66;


W 03/15 Wilson 
F 03/17Guest Speaker#2: Director of Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Greg HarmsRank; Blasi 
Week 10Education  
M 03/20 LG Chap. 8: 193-225


W 03/22 Kahn; The


F 03/24Exam #2Exam #2Exam #2
Week 11Intro to environmental sociology  
M 04/03 Ecological literacy;The Story of Stuff


W 04/05 GardnerRich Roll

Podcast 3 July

2016:Andrew Morgan on

the cost of Fast

Fashion (listen to what you

can, it’s 2h long)

F 04/07The population questionHardinMother: caring for 7 billion
Week 12Food and Agriculture Climate Change  
M 04/10 LG 415-416; WalshFood Inc.
W 04/12Special lecture: “The buzz

about bees”

F 04/14Special lecture: “The buzz

about bees”

Week 13Climate Change  
M 04/17Science and ideologyClimate literacy (skim); WheelerMovie analysis due on dropbox by 9am
W 04/19Guest speaker #3: Sarah Dawn Haynes


Outreach and Engagement Coordinator

CU Environmental Center


CorderoClimate Refugees (watch at least 20’)
F 04/21“Living in denial”Stern 
Week 14Thanksgiving BreakThanksgiving BreakThanksgiving Break
M 04/24Environmental JusticePulido 
W 04/26Sustainable developmentCASSE; A Degrowth Response 
F 04/28Happiness and sustainabilityKimeldorf 
Week 16Happiness and Consumption  
M 05/01DegrowthSchor


Rich Roll Podcast 3July 2016:Andrew Morgan on the cost of Fast Fashion(listen to what you can, it’s 2h long)
W 05/03Voluntary SimplicityElgin 
F 05/05 SOW2012 

Movies with a * are optional

Readings, movies and podcasts must be read/watched/listened to before class

%d bloggers like this: