Monday, September 3, 2012

"And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families." -Margaret Thatcher

Regarding the strange fellow in the bath-tub who sits behind these words:

SOCI 203/2 A                         INTRODUCTION TO SOCIETY     FALL SEMESTER 2012

Course Director: Daniel Dagenais

Professors:                                             Teaching Assistants: 
Meir Amor                                 Walter Goettlich
Daniel Dagenais                          Craig Mackie
Valérie de Courvillle Nicol      Ian McLeod
Danielle Gauvreau                      Frédérique Robert-Paul
Satoshi Ikeda                              David Perkins
Sylvia Kairouz                           Sara Rodriguez
Greg Nielsen
Bart Simon
Anthony Synnott
Jean-Philippe Warren

I           Overall presentation

For the second time in the history of our Department, the Introduction to Society course is being taught by the collective body of full time faculty members in sociology, and all the students doing a major, a specialization or a joint-specialization will attend the same course. There are good practical reasons to do so: the new students of a particular cohort will have a chance to share a common experience; they will meet at the beginning of their studies with most of the professors in the department; they will be introduced to the discipline by the best specialists of each domain; given all this, they shall be in a position to orient themselves more autonomously in our program. More importantly, it seemed to us to be the best way to introduce the students to sociology as a discipline of thought. Let us try to characterize the approach that this new introductory course entails.

For various reasons, we never seriously contemplated the possibility of presenting students with a unified theoretical system breaking down society into its various dimensions, be it for the fact that there are too many theoretical perspectives to reach a consensus on any of them. On the other hand, it did not seem sufficient to showcase our current research, without making explicit the tradition of thought in which it is situated. Half way between impracticable systematizing and undesired eclecticism, we have chosen to introduce sociology through a dialogue between classical and contemporary sociology. The question arises: how does one achieve such a goal?
It simply happened that, historically speaking, sociology crystallized in the study of particular objects representing the categories through which social practice actually unfolds. No doubt, there is some interest in applying sociological method to learn more about (for example) the evolution of nicknames in society. This evolution, however, is not constitutive of what society is, as is (for instance) its differentiation into ethnic groups or social classes, or its being more and more dominated by a particular field of social practice, the economical. Sociology came to be the study of the domains of social practice, up to and including a reflection on its own practice, which is also a social practice. This tradition of thought, one must add, has gone through an evolution since its beginning.  Accordingly, this course has been designed so to provide the students with the broadest possible introduction to sociology as a discipline of thought centered on the objects of social practice, and to do so keeping in mind the actual history of sociology as such. This calls for several clarifications.
Sociology is part of society, and its very existence and evolution means something about society itself. For instance, the birth of sociology and its separation from political philosophy is significant. Likewise, the evolution of sociological thought (of its theories, methods and objects) tells us something about the evolution of society.  It follows from this that sociology is more than simply a method to do and learn things social. It is first and foremost a reflexion of society upon itself. Illustrative of this is the evolution of the objects on which sociology applied its imagination. There is, for instance, no such thing as “gender studies” of “sociology of media” in 19th Century classical sociology, and none of the early theorists ever foresaw the possibility of environmental destruction, not to mention anything about a possible threat posed to the human condition as such.
This introductory course has been designed to cover objects of predilection of sociology so that this course might very well bear the title of: Introduction to sociology as introduction to society. To be sure, this panorama is limited and biased. Limited: not all the objects are actually (re)presented; biased: the perspective in which they are presented could be different and is certainly particular. Be that as it may, consider  this course as an attempt towards representativeness in lieu of  exhaustiveness.
Formally speaking, this approach to the introductory course is meant to be critical and dialogical. Juxtaposing 12 lectures and lecturers, we are offering, for your reflection, a set of perspectives on what always remains, at the end of the day, the selfsame object: society. You shall thus be in a position not only to learn from a variety of perspectives, but possibly to make connections between them. On the other hand, organizing the course around the objects of sociology as they historically emerged, we are revisiting the history of the discipline rather than parting company with it. Thinking is always a matter of thinking over again something that has already been thought and if critical theory makes sense at all, it must imply the (dialogical) possibility to render explicit the possibility to see things in a new perspective. We have tried for instance to have classical authors entering into an implicit dialogue with contemporary ones: testifying to this, the list of readings includes, most of the time, papers from classical and contemporary authors on the same topic. If, indeed, sociology (as with other disciplines of thought) is not in any position to justify its monopoly over its object in a positivist way, it is nevertheless a tradition of thought one can reflexively draw upon and pursue critically in the conditions of the present.

II         Learning activities

It goes without saying that such a course format (300 students in the same classroom; 12 lectures with different lecturers) makes the process of learning and teaching somewhat different. To address this issue, we have designed a relatively unique course for Concordia. It consists of two different and complementary activities:

Monday morning tutorials, lasting for one hour, in which small groups of students (approx. 25 students) meet with a teaching assistant;

Monday afternoon lectures (lasting for approximately two hours) taught by the professors of the department.

These two activities complement each other; the tutorials will be crucial preparation for the afternoon lecture to follow. During these tutorials, the weekly readings (see below) will be analysed and discussed to make sure that a basic understanding of the key concepts and ideas is met in advance of the lecture. The tutorials are also the occasion to provide you with the complementary explanations (on historical issues, theoretical concepts, important authors, etc.) so that the afternoon lecture can make sense to you.  The other important dimension of the tutorials is pedagogical. Tutors working with smaller groups will provide the students with richer feedback on assignments, and more flexibility to return to various topics and develop certain ideas further in group discussion. Additionally, the tutorials will also be used to write exams (twice) and to attend a research workshop in the library. The format is smaller and more intimate than the afternoon lecture (25 students groups in tutorials, as compared to one large group of 300 students in the afternoon), so it goes without saying that the tutorials shall be more interactive than the afternoon lecture. Both formats are integral to the course however.
Attending the afternoon lecture requires the participation in the tutorial and your comprehension of the afternoon lecture is dependent on doing the set of readings assigned for that week in advance of the lecture. The readings will not be summarized for you and you should make use of the tutorials to make sure you understand the reading. The readings have been gathered in an electronic course reserve, available through the library website. You have to read one or two articles every week, depending on the length and difficulty of the readings. The mid term and final exams will be based on the readings and the afternoon lecture material. At the end of each lecture, the professor shall give you an indication of the question(s) that might be asked in the examination to assess your understanding of the lecture. 

III        Assignments and evaluation

Reading reports

This twofold activity (tutorials + lecture) calls for two kinds of assignments. Besides mid-term and final examinations to which we will return shortly, students are required to write 6 reading reports throughout the semester. A reading report is a short account of the weekly reading, seeking to identify the topic of the article so that someone who has not read the paper, but has read your account of it, can have a roughly good idea of what it is all about. The length of each report is: no less than 150 words; no more than 200 words. The goal of this type of assignment is twofold: firstly, your tutor will be able to see whether or not you did the reading; and more importantly, it is a writing exercise aimed at helping you to achieve concision, precision and completeness with your writing and thought.
All the necessary readings for this course have been gathered in the electronic course reserve available through the library website. If, on average, there are two readings per class to do (in total: approximately 24), 12 of these readings (one per week) have been identified to be possibly the object of the reading report. In other words, each professor has identified, among the required readings, the one that might be the object of the reading report (identified below with an asterisk). Now, all the readings are paired so that you have to write the account of reading 1 or 2; 3 or 4; 5 or 6; 7 or 8; 9 or 10; and 11 or 12. It follows from this that, if one leaves aside the first week of the calendar for which no reading is required, then you have to hand in a reading report every second week. However, the deadline for the report is the day you are supposed to do the reading for. Let us clarify this and consider week 2 and 3, because there is no required reading for the first class. Readings number one and two are meant to prepare the lectures to be given on week 2 and 3. If you decide to write the reading report of reading number one, it must be handed in on week 2.
You have to hand in the reading at the tutorial and no later, for the tutorial is meant to discuss this reading. It follows from this that the reading report cannot be handed in during the afternoon lecture. Late reading reports will simply not be accepted.


Since the lectures are independent from each other, the 3 examinations that will take place on the 6th week of the calendar (October 22), on the 10th week of the calendar (November 19) and during the examination weeks in December (that is to say, after the 13th class: date to be announced), will assess your understanding of each lecture taken separately. The examination simply consists in an essay-type of question. After the weekly lecture, the professor shall provide you with an indication of the type of question(s) that might be asked in the examination. The questions seek to assess your understanding of the lecture and/or of the reading(s). Each examination covers the 4 precedent lectures. Hence, the final examination is not cumulative: it covers the content of lectures 10 to 13. The first two examinations (the mid-terms) will take place during the tutorials of week 6 and 10.

Research Workshops

One tutorial shall be devoted to a research workshop in the library. Students missing this group training session will have to register by themselves to a similar workshop organized by the Library and prove that they did so.  


Each of the examinations is worth 25% of the final grade. Total: 75%.
The cumulative value of the reading reports is 25%.


There are two categories of readings listed below: required readings and complementary readings. The required readings refer to the weekly readings students must do before the tutorial. Most of the time, there are two required readings:

  • The first required reading is preceded by an asterisk to identify the readings on which the reading reports shall be written. The papers belonging to this list can be considered as definitional of their particular sociological object. 
  • The second required reading, most of the time a more contemporary one, overlaps with the lecture itself. It shall provide you with a material support to understand the afternoon lecture, without substituting to it.

The complementary readings a provided for you information, would you like to deepen your knowledge of the object to which one particular lecture was devoted.

Lap Tops

The use of lap tops is strictly forbidden during the afternoon lecture.

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We believe that this new format for the introductory course to sociology is both challenging and promising. Now, the successful completion of this course requires your active participation in the tutorials and in the lectures. It is important to understand that the tutorials (organized around the weekly readings) and the lectures (whose content is the matter of examination) are relatively independent from each other. Additionally, since each lecture is itself independent from the others, given by a different lecture, it goes without saying that attending the lectures is crucial for the successful completion of the course. Be that as it may, attendance is obligatory and will be monitored. The following sequence of lectures is provided as an indication of what the course should be. Changes might be brought in the sequence or topics of the lectures or tutorials. These changes shall be communicated in class, if need be. 

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