Sociology 240: Social Problems

4 credits

Spring Semester 2001

Pacific Lutheran University

Classroom: Administration 212

Class Time: Monday/Wednesday 3:40-5:25 P.M.

Instructor: Devon Brewer, Ph.D.

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to sociology and social science through the study of prominent social problems. We will examine a diverse sample of social problems, including social stratification/inequality, crime, drug abuse, prostitution, infectious disease, family violence, racial/ethnic conflict, and war. We will explore factors underlying social problems as well as attempts to resolve them. This course emphasizes an evolutionary, cross-cultural, and interdisciplinary perspective. Classes involve lecture, discussion, and films.

Course Objectives

This course has five main objectives:

1) to introduce basic social science concepts and research methods;

2) to review several persistent and widespread social problems;

3) to apply an evolutionary perspective to social phenomena;

4) to present the viewpoints of people involved in social problems;

5) to develop critical thinking and writing skills

Course Readings

The following books are required for this course and are available at the PLU Bookstore:

Fleisher, Mark S. (1995). Beggars and Thieves: The Lives of Urban Street Criminals. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

McKeganey, Neil, and Barnard, Marina. (1996). Sex Work on the Streets: Prostitutes and Their Clients. Buckingham: Open University Press.

There are also a number of articles and book chapters on reserve at the library. You may copy these or access them for free via the library's eReserves . You should print out these readings to make sure you have a hard copy.

Requirements and Grading

Attendance, notes, and reading assignments

I strongly urge you to attend class every scheduled session, although you will not be directly penalized for missing class. You are responsible for all material presented in class and handing in assignments on time. This means that if you miss class, you must get copies of notes from a classmate--I will not provide notes for anyone. I will make copies of my overheads available on the web at . If you need handouts given in a previous meeting of the class, you must make copies from a classmate or get them from me during office hours. In my previous classes, students' performance tended to drop about a full grade (on average) for every two to three class sessions missed. In effect, you penalize yourself if you miss class.

Class discussions will typically focus on the assigned readings. Make sure to read the material assigned for a particular day before coming to that class session. For each reading assignment, I will post questions about the particular readings in class on the course web page at least one class session before we discuss them.

Homework assignments

For each reading assignment, I will designate one or a few of the questions as homework assignments. You are to write a paragraph response to each question and hand it in at the beginning of the class session in which we will discuss that reading assignment. I recommend that you type your homework assignments, although I will accept handwritten homeworks if your writing is legible. There are a total of 20 homework assignments. I will collect and grade 11 of them (I will determine at random which 11 assignments I collect). Each assignment that I collect will be graded on a credit/no credit basis. In grading homework, I will mainly be looking for evidence that you read the readings in more than a superficial way. Pay attention to legibility,
grammar, and spelling, because if I don't understand what you've written, you can't get credit for it. I will not accept any late homework assignments, but you may miss one collected homework assignment and still receive full course credit for homework.

Exams and paper

Exams consist of multiple choice, true-false, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and essay questions. Each student will also independently conduct a literature review of a particular social problem and report on it in a paper 5-7 pages long. We will discuss the paper assignment in greater detail in the 5th week of the course.

Grading components

Grades are based on the following components and weights:

quiz 10%

homework assignments 10%

midterm exam 25%

literature review paper 25%

final exam 30%

A+ = 97-100%     B+ = 87-89%     C+ = 77-79%     D+ = 67-69

A = 93-96%         B = 83-86%       C = 73-76%       D = 63-66%

A- = 90-92%        B- = 80-82%      C- = 70-72%     D- = 60-62%

                                                                               E < 60%

Extra credit

Students can earn up to 10% additional course credit by completing an optional extra assignment and attending class consistently. The extra assignment, worth 8%, involves providing approximately 16 hours of service over a period of 8 or more weeks to a community organization that addresses a social problem. The Center for Public Service at PLU has a list of local organizations that welcome student assistance. If you are currently involved with a similar volunteer or service learning activity, you may continue it for extra credit. If you decide to pursue this service learning assignment, you must make arrangements with me before the third week of class. Students providing service will document their experiences in a journal, which will be turned in periodically during the semester, and then write a brief (2-3 page) summary/discussion of their own and the organization’s activities.

Also, if you attend 24 or more of the 26 class sessions (I will take attendance), then you will earn 2% additional course credit.


Weekly Schedule (tentative)
Week 1  
  Wednesday, Feb. 7
  Basic social science concepts
Week 2  
Monday, Feb. 12 Wednesday, Feb. 14
Research methods and design Overview of sociological theories
Read: Fleisher, Intro., ch. 1 Evolutionary theory
  Read: Dietrich; Buss
Week 3  
Monday, Feb. 19 Wednesday, Feb. 21
Presidents' Day Holiday - no class Evolutionary theory
  Read: de Waal
Week 4  
Monday, Feb. 26 Wednesday, Feb. 28
Social stratification/inequality Social stratification/inequality
Read: Lenski Read: Yunus
Week 5  
Monday, Mar. 5 Wednesday, Mar. 7
Quiz Crime
Paper assignment, Library presentation Read: Fleisher, ch. 2 & 3
Read: Brewer/Miller  
Week 6  
Monday, Mar. 12 Wednesday, Mar. 14
Crime Crime, Drug abuse
Read: Fleisher, ch. 4 & 5 Read: Fleisher, ch. 6 & 7
Week 7  
Monday, Mar. 19 Wednesday, Mar. 21
Drug abuse, Prostitution Prostitution
Read: McKeganey/Barnard, Intro., ch. 1-3 Read: McKeganey/Barnard, ch. 4 & 6
Week 8  
Monday, Mar. 26 Wednesday, Mar. 28
Spring Break - no class Spring Break - no class
Week 9  
Monday, April 2 Wednesday, April 4
Prostitution Midterm Exam
Read: McKeganey/Barnard, ch. 5, 7, 8  
Week 10  
Monday, April 9 Wednesday, April 11
Infectious disease Infectious disease
Film: "Born in Africa: Philly Lutaya" Read: Schoofs, pts. 1, 2, 4 
Week 11  
Monday, April 16 Wednesday, April 18
Infectious disease Infectious disease
Read: Schoofs, pts. 5 & 6 Read: Potterat, Muth, & Muth
Week 12  
Monday, April 23 Wednesday, April 25
Family problems Family problems
Read: Wilson/Daly; Daly/Wilson  
Week 13  
Monday, April 30 Wednesday, May 2
Racial/ethnic conflict Racial/ethnic conflict
read: van den Berghe read: Sherif
Week 14  
Monday, May 7 Wednesday, May 9
Racial/ethnic conflict War
Extra credit due read: Alexander
Week 15  
Monday, May 13 Monday, May 15
War Review
read: Boutwell/Klare Course evaluations
  Paper Due

Final Exam 3:00-4:50 PM, Wednesday, May 23 Administration 212

Readings on reserve:

Dietrich, Bill. (1996). The boundaries between science and religion. Seattle Times, April 23.

Buss, David M. (1999). Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. (pp. 4-22, 33-39).

de Waal, Frans B. M. (1999). The end of nature versus nurture. Scientific American, December, 94-99.

Lenski, Gerhard. (1978). Marxist experiments in destratification: An appraisal. Social Forces, 57, 364-383.

Yunus, Muhammad. (1999). The Grameen Bank. Scientific American, 282 (5, November), 114-119.

Brewer, Devon D., & Miller, Marc L. (1990). Bombing and burning: The social organization and values of Hip Hop graffiti writers and implications for policy. Deviant Behavior, 11, 345-369.

Schoofs, Mark. (1999). AIDS: The agony of Africa (parts 1, 2, 4, 5, & 6). Village Voice, November 3 - December 15.

Potterat, John J., Muth, Stephen Q., & Muth, John B. (1998). "Partner notification" early in the AIDS era: Misconstruing contact tracers as bedroom police. Research in Social Policy, 6, 1-15.

Wilson, Margo I., & Daly, M. (1996). Male sexual proprietariness and violence against wives. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 5, 2-7.

Daly, M., & Wilson, Margo I. (1996). Violence against stepchildren. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 5, 77-81.

van den Berghe, Pierre L. (1987). The Ethnic Phenomenon. Westport, CT: Praeger. (Ch. 2 "Ethnicity as kin selection: The biology of nepotism").

Sherif, Muzafer. (1956). Experiments in group conflict. Scientific American, 195 (5, November), 54-58.

Alexander, Richard D. (1987). The Biology of Moral Systems. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. ("Arms races, human and otherwise," pp. 227-252).

Boutwell, Jeffrey, & Klare, Michael T. (2000). A scourge of small arms. Scientific American, 282 (6, June), 48-53.