Fall 2016
Sociology 130
Mondays: 4:30pm – 7:50pm
May 111B

Office: O’Connor 336
Phone: (508) 626-4864
E-mail: isilver@framingham.edu


This course explores why certain social problems become matters of public concern while others do not. We will discuss the actions of individuals and organizations that are involved in calling public attention to or in distracting public attention away from particular problems in American society. You will gain a perspective that you’re unlikely to acquire from the many other forums where people discuss social problems, such as the media and politics.


This course will enable you to:

  • Think critically about the social world around you and investigate why people do or do not care about bringing attention to and trying to fix harm.
  • Acquire a set of tools for looking at social issues and how these issues impact upon your own lives.
  • Better understand the issues you care about and why.
  • Become comfortable with expressing your ideas orally in front of your peers.
  • Write with focus, clarity, and brevity.


You must come to class consistently and on time. Since we only meet once a week, each class is critical. I recognize that sometimes there are justifiable reasons for missing a class. If this must happen, please let me know in advance. It is your responsibility to ask for any materials that I handed out on a day when you are not in class.


There is one required book, which will be provided to you: Ira Silver, Social Problems: Readings. New York: WW Norton, 2008.

The links for all other readings are posted on the schedule below as indicated.

*Please bring assigned readings to class. For those that are online, either print them or access them electronically in class via your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.


As a way of facilitating class discussion, each week you are to post on Blackboard responses to questions listed for that particular date.

Your posts are due no later than 10am on Mondays. I will not give full credit for late posts, and will give no credit for posts made after class.


Your final grade will be computed as follows:

30%    Homework responses
20%    Paper 1
30%    Paper 2
20%    Class attendance and participation


September 12th

Course overview

*Read in class: Kate Zernike, “The Difference Between Steroids and Ritalin Is . . .” New York Times, March 20, 2005.

September 19th

*Read: Donileen Loseke, “The People and the Tasks in Constructing Social Problems.” Pp. 25-44 in Thinking about Social Problems: An Introduction to Constructionist Perspectives. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1999.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. What are claims? List 5 different claims – either ones Loseke discussed or that you have come up with on your own.
  2. What are claimsmakers? List 5 different claimsmakers — either ones Loseke mentions or that you can think of on your own. For each, jot down the role this claimsmaker plays in trying to bring public attention to a social problem.
  3. Question 1 on p. 281 in the Silver book.

*Read: Jeffrey Reiman, “The Crimes that Come to Mind.” Chapter 21 in Silver.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

     4. Question 2 on p. 281 in the Silver book.

September 26th

*Read: Barry Glassner, excerpts from The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things. New York: Basic Books, 2009. This reading is divided into 2 parts: Part 1 and Part 2. (NOTE: They may appear sideways on your screen. The only way I know to fix this is if you first save the reading to your laptop and then open it in Adobe Acrobat Reader. Once you have opened it, click “View”, then scroll down to “Rotate View” and then click “Counterclockwise.”)

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. What is the “culture of fear”?  What are some illustrations of it?
  2. What does Barry Glassner mean when he writes on p.xxvi: “One of the paradoxes of a culture of fear is that serious problems remain widely ignored even though they give rise to precisely the dangers that the populace most abhors”?

*Watch in class: “The Mean World Syndrome: Media Violence and the Cultivation of Fear”

October 3rd

*Read: Frank Bruni, “Seeing Police Mistreatment of Blacks as a Necessary Evil.” Chapter 4 in Silver.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. In what sense is police violence toward Black Americans a byproduct of our culture of fear?

*Read: Elliot Currie, “Shouldn’t Black Lives Matter All the Time?” Contexts Summer 2015 14(3): 17-18.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

     2. Why is there such a disparity between the huge amount of claimsmaking about police violence toward African Americans and the virtually non-existent attention given to the much likelier scenarios that Black Americans experience violence?

October 10th

*Read: Amy Binder, “Dangerous Music in Black and White.” Chapter 11 in Silver.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. Identify an attack against popular music that has been made in the years since Binder’s article was first published in 1993. Do some web research for specific information. Which artist was under attack and for what reasons?
  2. According to Binder, how were the corruption and protection frames used during the late 1980s to describe the harmfulness of heavy metal?
  3. According to Binder, how was the danger to society frame used during the late 1980s and early 1990s to describe the harmfulness of rap?

October 17th

*Read: Barry Glassner, “Black Men as Criminals and as Victims.” Chapter 26 in Silver (*Just read pp. 317-22).

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. Why does Glassner argue that it’s hypocritical to single out rap for the offensive messages in its lyrics?
  2. What are the contrasting ways obituaries of Tupac Shakur framed the meaning of his lyrics?
  3. What does Kimberle Williams Crenshaw mean when she is quoted on p. 319 as saying, in reference to the attack on 2 Live Crew’s album Nasty As They Wanna Be: “Attacks on rap music at once reflect and reinforce deep and enduring fears about the sexuality and strength of black men?”  How do attacks against rap reflect those fears?  How do attacks against rap reinforce those fears?

*Watch in class: Clip from The Daily Show, May 11, 2011.

October 22nd

Paper 1 due by 11pm

October 24th

*Read: Ira Silver, “Sizing up Size Discrimination: The Fallout of Fighting Obesity.” Chapter 4 in More Than Meets the Eye: The Hidden Stories Behind Social Problems.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. How does mainstream media coverage characterize obesity in ways that give license to fat shaming?
  2. Why is it harder for low-income people to make healthy choices when it comes to eating and fitness than for higher-income people?
  3. How are even people of normal weight at risk of experiencing the psychological and emotional fallout of living in a society that places such a high premium on thinness?
  4. What is significant about the work fat acceptance activists are doing to challenge social norms surrounding weight?

*Watch in class: “Stigma: The Human Cost of Obesity” clip from The Weight of a Nation

*Watch in class: “Poverty and Obesity” clip from The Weight of a Nation

October 31st

*You don’t need to arrive until 5:50. We won’t be having a regular class but instead there will be a “College Readiness Night” held by the MetroWest College Planning Center. Someone will meet you in our classroom to take you to the College Planning Center.

November 7th

*Read: Linda Tirado, “This is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense.” The Huffington Post, November 22, 2013.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. Answer the following question: In what sense is Linda Tirado’ personal account a critique of the widespread public contempt of America’s poor? In what sense might her account actually feed that contempt?

*Read: Mark Rank, “Rethinking American Poverty.” Contexts 2011 10 (2): 16-21.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

     2. Rank suggests that poor people in the United States are often seen as a distinct subculture with values that deviate from the mainstream. What are the deviant values that often get attributed to poor people?
     3. What alternative frame does Rank outline for how to understand the causes of American poverty?
What are the two ways the article identifies for how poverty affects us all?  Why are these significant to consider?

*Read in class: Nicholas Kristof, “A Nation of Takers.” New York Times, March 26, 2014.

November 14th

Discussion of the election

November 21st

*Read: Ian Parker, “The Story of a Suicide: Two College Roommates, a Webcam, and a Tragedy.” New Yorker, February 6, 2012.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. As discussed in the first few pages of Parker’s essay – and perhaps from your own recollection — what were the dominant frames attached to the Tyler Clementi suicide in the weeks immediately following it in September 2010?
  2. How does Parker’s detailed journalistic account, published about 16 months after the suicide, offer a more nuanced and more complicated picture of the events preceding it?

*Read in class: Deborah Temkin, “Stop Saying Bullying Causes Suicide,” Huffington Post, September 27, 2013.

November 28th

*Read: Kristin Luker, “Babies Having Babies.” Chapter 22 in Silver.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. What evidence does Luker present to indicate that births to teens were actually on the decline during the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s when teenage pregnancy was seem as an epidemic while premarital sex, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births were on the rise and yet not similarly viewed as epidemics?
  2. Why then was teenage pregnancy constructed as the key social problem among these issues for the public to be alarmed about and for policymakers to address? How, in Luker’s words, did the epidemic of teenage pregnancy seem to “explain a number of dismaying social phenomena, such as spreading signs of poverty, persistent racial inequalities, illegitimacy, freer sexual mores, and new family structures (page 286)?”
  3. What is the alternative framing of teenage pregnancy that Kristin Luker lays out beginning on page 295?

*Read: Mike Males, “Behaving Like Children.” New York Times, January 28, 2011.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

4. How is Males’ analysis of teen pregnancy claimsmaking in recent years similar to Luker’s account of the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties?

December 5th

*Read: Kristin A. Goss, “Bad Public Policy Contributes to the Death Count. “ The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 18, 2007.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. Pay close attention when Goss says (p. 1) “we persist in analyzing these massacres in terms of the unique stories of the individual perpetrators.” What is she arguing here?
  2. Based on the Secret Service study Goss cites, why is the individual frame by itself not very useful for understanding these rampages?

*Read: “The Hearts of Boys.” Contexts Winter 2013 12(1): 14-23.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

     3. How do these essays highlight boys’ desires to embrace forms of masculinity that are at odds with conventional ideas about what it means to “be a man?”

*Watch in class: Part of a speech delivered by anti-violence educator and activist Jackson Katz a few days after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and a segment from his film Tough Guise: Media & the Crisis in Masculinity.

December 12th

*Read: Christopher, J. Ferguson, “Don’t Blame Video Games for Real World Violence.” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 10, 2013.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

  1. What evidence does Ferguson offer to indicate that video games are not a major cause of mass killings?
  2. Why does the video games explanation for real-world violence remain popular despite the lack of evidence supporting it?

*Read: Lionel Shriver, “Dying to be Famous.” Chapter 7 in Silver.

*Answer the following on Blackboard:

     3. Shriver writes on page 77: “Surely no single factor explains the perniciousness of school shootings more than the intense news media focus they draw.” How does this statement encapsulate the argument in these two readings?
Why are we culturally more fascinated with, and hence more interested in knowing about, people who commit heinous acts of violence as opposed to people who behave in extremely positive ways?

*Read in class: “Zeynep Tufekci, The Media Needs to Stop Inspiring Copycat Murders. Here’s How.” The Atlantic, December 19, 2012.

December 19th

2nd Paper Due