Soci 1: Introduction to Sociology (2020)

University of California-San Diego
Summer 2020

Lane Kenworthy
Zoom classtime: M Tu W Th 9:30-10:50
Zoom office hours: M W 11:15-12:15
Tel: 858-860-6124

Teaching Assistant: Bernardo Mackenna
Discussion section: Tu Th 11:00-11:50, via Zoom
Office hours: W 12:00-1:00, via Zoom

Teaching Assistant: Panayiotis Sofocleous
Discussion section: Tu Th 11:00-11:50, via Zoom
Office hours: M 12:30-1:30, via Zoom

Sociology is the scientific study of society — of people, organizations, institutions, policies, cities, and countries, the ways in which they interact, and the outcomes they create. This course will introduce you to questions, hypotheses, research findings, and arguments on some important and topical issues.

The course will be entirely online and asynchronous.

Readings and lecture videos are on Canvas. Each class day, beginning on day 3, you will take a 10-question quiz, accessed via Canvas, on the reading and lecture video(s) for that day. There will be 18 quizzes; only your highest 14 grades will count. I’ll be posting lecture videos and quizzes gradually as the course goes along; they’ll always be available at least 48 hours in advance. We won’t meet during the scheduled class time, but I’ll be available via Zoom during that time to answer questions and discuss.

For discussion sections, you’ll write a short comment on the readings/videos and post it to a discussion board on Canvas. These are due at noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You will also respond to the comment of one other student, due at 11:59pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The discussion sections won’t meet during the scheduled time, but Bernardo Mackenna and Panayiotis Sofocleous, the course teaching assistants, will be available via Zoom during that time to answer questions and discuss.

There will be two open-note take-home essay exams.

All times listed in this syllabus are California time.

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Here are the topics we’ll cover. The full schedule, including discussion sections and exams, is in Canvas.

Day 1, Aug 3 (M)
Course introduction

Day 2, Aug 4 (Tu)
How do we know?

Day 3, Aug 5 (W)
How can we boost happiness?

Day 4, Aug 6 (Th)
The Covid-19 pandemic

Day 5, Aug 10 (M)
How tolerant are we?

Day 6, Aug 11 (Tu)
How can we increase inclusion of Black Americans?

Day 7, Aug 12 (W)
How can we reduce violence?

Day 8, Aug 13 (Th)
Should we have open borders?

Day 9, Aug 17 (M)
What should we do about homelessness?

Day 10, Aug 18 (Tu)
Should we reduce income and wealth inequality?

Day 11, Aug 19 (W)
Are jobs disappearing?

Day 12, Aug 20 (Th)
How can we equalize opportunity?

Exam 1 due: Sunday, August 23, 11:59pm

Day 13, Aug 24 (M)
What would improve Americans’ economic security?

Day 14, Aug 25 (Tu)
What kind of healthcare system should we have?

Day 15, Aug 26 (W)
What good is education?

Day 16, Aug 27 (Th)
How can we reduce poverty?

Day 17, Aug 31 (M)
Why are Americans so untrusting?

Day 18, Sept 1 (Tu)
Can we improve mental health?

Day 19, Sept 2 (W)
Who wins elections and why?

Day 20, Sept 3 (Th)
How big should our government be?

Exam 2 due: Saturday, Sept 5, 11:59pm


Here’s what you should get from this course:

Substantive knowledge. The course aims to improve your understanding of the issues we cover.

Approaching issues scientifically (this is often called “critical thinking”). Many of the issues we’ll look at are front-and-center in popular discussion, journalistic coverage, and political debate. This discussion would be better, and more helpful to policy makers, if it were more informed by science. Approaching an issue scientifically means, among other things, considering empirical evidence rather than relying solely on theory or ethical beliefs, looking for data rather than anecdote(s), looking for multiple sources of evidence (“If hypothesis A were true, what else would we expect to observe?”), and thinking about whether some types of evidence are more useful, and thus should be weighted more heavily, than others.

Asking important questions. For any issue or topic, there are multiple questions we might want to answer. While many are of interest, some are more important than others.

Understanding argument and evidence. For each class day, you will do a reading and watch lecture videos. Focus on the question(s) being posed, the answer(s) given, the key pieces of evidence, and the way the author reasons from the evidence and other considerations (laws, ethical views, etc) in reaching a conclusion.

Dealing with complexity and incomplete information. The issues we’ll examine are big and complicated. Scientists have struggled to understand the nature of the problem(s), to identify the main cause(s), and to figure out the most useful solution(s). The process is like detective work: seldom is the story simple and rarely do we have the exact evidence we’d need in order to be strongly confident about our conclusion, so we must ask an assortment of questions, use various types of data, and think systematically.

Spotting the progress. Social scientists and journalists often emphasize our problems and shortfalls. That’s helpful, because it spurs us to do better and (hopefully) helps us figure out how. But it can also give us the impression that things are getting worse. Sometimes that’s accurate, but in other instances it’s misleading. In fact, in many areas of life things have been improving and we could be doing better.

Comfort with quantitative data. A generation ago there was a scarcity of numerical data. Now we have an abundance: data are everywhere. That’s a good thing, because data are key to answering important questions about society. You will encounter lots of quantitative data in this course, often in graphical form. If you aren’t already comfortable interpreting such data and reasoning from them, by the end of the course you should be.

Written communication. There are two written exams. I expect your writing to be high quality. If you struggle with writing, you’re like virtually everyone else. Good writing usually comes from two things. The first is clear thinking. Writing isn’t just a way to express what you’re thinking; it’s a way to clarify your thinking. The second is extensive editing. Write a draft. Then edit it. Then edit it again. And again. For an excellent guide to good writing, see this.

Concision. Information and opinion are plentiful these days, so brevity is a valuable skill. The written exams are short, so you’ll need to focus on the information and argument that is most relevant or useful.

Developing a good argument. The course is designed to expose you to ways of developing and conveying effective argument. Keys include focusing on a specific question, formulating a clear proposal or position, making use of relevant evidence, addressing potential objections and counterarguments, and communicating clearly.

Here are a few things you won’t get from this course:

  • We won’t focus on “sociological” concepts. Some believe a description or explanation is only sociological if it makes use of concepts such as norms, roles, socialization, habit, groups, community, systems, networks, structure, social reproduction, stratification, status, power, deviance, discrimination, segregation. We’ll come across some of these, but I won’t attach any special importance or centrality to them.
  • We won’t make use of functionalist, conflict, and interactionist theoretical perspectives. These are commonly used to organize introductory sociology textbooks. They’ll play no role in this course.
  • We won’t look at grand theories. Karl Marx and some other sociologists have offered sweeping theories about how societies work and about the course of history. The questions we’ll aim to answer, and the theories (hypotheses) we’ll consider, are narrower — though not, in my view, less interesting or important.
  • We’ll pay little attention to influential theorists. For this, consider taking a sociological theory or history of sociology course.
  • In some sociology courses, a key objective is to learn how to decipher complex or abstract texts — to convert them into understandable terms and concepts in order to gauge their usefulness for analyzing contemporary issues. We won’t spend time on this.


Most of the readings will be from a digital textbook: Lane Kenworthy, The Good Society. It’s online and free. Direct links to the chapters, and to additional required readings and videos, are in Canvas.


During the scheduled class time (see above), I will be available to answer questions and discuss via Zoom. These meetings are optional. To connect, click on the Zoom meeting link in Canvas.

During the scheduled discussion section time (see above), the course teaching assistants will be available to answer questions and discuss via Zoom. These meetings are optional. To connect, click on the Zoom meeting link in Canvas.


Course grades will be determined as follows. See below for details.

  • 30%: discussion section comments and responses
  • 30%: quizzes
  • 20%: exam 1
  • 20%: exam 2

Each of these will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100. So your numerical course grade is calculated as: (discussion section grade x .30) + (quizzes average grade x .30) + (exam 1 grade x .20) + (exam 2 grade x .20).

Your letter grade for the course will be determined as follows:

  • 96.67 to 100 = A+
  • 93.34 to 96.66 = A
  • 90 to 93.33 = A–
  • 86.67 to 89.99 = B+
  • 83.34 to 86.66 = B
  • 80 to 83.33 = B–
  • 76.67 to 79.99 = C+
  • 73.34 to 76.66 = C
  • 70 to 73.33 = C–
  • 60 to 69.99 = D
  • below 60 = F

There will be no extra-credit projects or assignments.


The discussion sections won’t meet during the scheduled time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the course teaching assistants (see above) will be available during that time to answer questions via Zoom.

There are assigned readings and/or videos for each discussion section. These are available via Canvas. For each, you will write a short comment. You will also write a brief response to the comment of one other student. (You have to post your own comment before you’re allowed to see the comments posted by other students.) Your comment is due by noon on the discussion section day and your response is due by 11:59pm that day.

If you have the Canvas app, you can post your comment and response using your phone. But don’t write as though you’re texting or tweeting. Write real sentences and use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Discussion section grading: For each discussion section, your grade will be 100 if you write a good comment and respond to the comment of another student. If you post a comment and response but they’re poorly written or reflect little engagement with the readings/videos, or if you post your comment after noon (making it difficult for other students to respond to it), or if you post a comment but don’t respond to another student, your grade will be 50. There will be 9 discussion section posts; only your 8 highest grades will count.


Each class day, beginning on day 3, you will take a short quiz on the reading(s) and video(s) for that day. Each quiz will have 10 multiple choice or true/false questions. There will be 18 quizzes; only your highest 14 grades will count.

The quizzes will be posted on Canvas. Each quiz will be available throughout the day. You can start the quiz any time beginning at 12:01am, and you must finish it by 11:59pm. Once you begin a quiz, you’ll have 30 minutes to complete it.

The quizzes are open-note open-computer.

If you have the Canvas app, you can take the quizzes using your phone.

You can skip a quiz, which will reduce the number of quizzes that count for your overall quiz grade, if you have to miss it for any of the following three reasons: (1) holidays or special events observed by organized religions (for students who show affiliation with that particular religion), (2) absences pre-approved by the UCSD Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee), (3) extended illness (this requires a doctor’s note). I will need written verification of the circumstances.


Each exam will have one question. The question will be posted on Canvas at least 96 hours before the exam is due.

Write your answer in a word processing document (Microsoft Word, Google docs, Pages, etc.).

The exams are open-note open-computer.

You should draw on the course readings and videos. You can also use outside sources if you wish, but that isn’t required.

Grading will be based on the following:

  • Answer the question.
  • Refer to relevant evidence. If you include charts and/or tables, put them at the end and don’t include them in the word count.
  • Address potential objections. What would a critic say are the weak points in your case? How do you respond?
  • Write clearly.
  • Use proper grammar and punctuation (“I,” “me,” and contractions are fine), and adhere to the following length, formatting, and citation instructions. Length: No more than 1,000 words (excluding charts, tables, and footnotes). List your word count on the first page, along with your name and the date. Formatting: single-space, 12-point font size, 1-inch top and bottom margins and 2-inch side margins. Use footnotes (not a reference list or bibliography) to give credit to anyone from whom you borrow evidence or argument. The footnotes aren’t included in the word count. I’m not picky about the formatting of the footnotes, but include the author(s), title, and year rather than just an internet address.

If you need help with writing, consider seeking assistance from the UC San Diego Writing Hub.

The due dates are listed in the schedule above. An exam turned in late but within 48 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). An exam turned in more than 48 hours late, or not turned in at all, will receive a grade of zero.

Upload your exam answer on Canvas. Emailed or hard copy exam answers won’t be accepted.

Submit your answer in a word processing program format (Microsoft Word, Google docs, Pages, etc.). Don’t submit it as a pdf document.

Don’t plagiarize. If you aren’t sure what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, see the UC San Diego Library’s guide to preventing plagiarism.


Students are encouraged to share intellectual views and discuss freely the principles and applications of course materials. However, graded work must be the product of independent effort unless otherwise instructed. Students are expected to adhere to UC San Diego policy on academic integrity.


Students who need special accommodation or services should contact the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). You must register and request that the OSD send me official notification of your accommodation needs as soon as possible. Please meet with me to discuss accommodations and how the course requirements and activities may impact your ability to fully participate.

If your access to the internet is limited, please let me or the teaching assistant know.


Information here, other than the grade and attendance policy, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.