Soci 20: Social Change


University of California-San Diego
Spring 2020-21

Lane Kenworthy
Zoom office hours: Tu Th 9:30-10:50am and by appointment
Tel: 858-860-6124

Teaching Assistant: ???
Zoom office hours for section A01: F 10:00-10:50am
Zoom office hours for section A02: F 11:00-11:50am
Email: ???

This course explores social change in the United States and other countries. How much have institutions, policies, and societies changed? Why? Has change tended to be good or bad?

The course will be entirely online and asynchronous.

Readings and lecture videos are on Canvas. The course has 20 modules. We will cover two each week. For each, beginning with the third, you will take a 10-question quiz, accessed via Canvas, on the readings and lecture videos. 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 one week 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.

Once per week, beginning in week 2, you’ll write a short comment on assigned readings/videos and post it to a discussion board on Canvas. These are due at 11:59pm on Tuesdays. You will also respond to the comments of two other students; these responses are due at 11:59pm on Thursdays. The discussion sections won’t meet during the scheduled time, but the course teaching assistant 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 is in Canvas.

Module 1
March 29-30 (M Tu of week 1)
Course introduction

Module 2
March 31 and April 1 (W Th of week 1)
How do we know?

Quizzes and discussion boards begin in week 2

Module 3
April 5-6 (M Tu of week 2)
Are things getting worse?

Module 4
April 7-8 (W Th of week 2)
Covid-19 and future pandemics

Module 5
April 12-13 (M Tu of week 3)
Is globalization good or bad for the poor?

Module 6
April 14-15 (W Th of week 3)
Why are we getting heavier?

Module 7
April 19-20 (M Tu of week 4)
Are traditionalists winning the culture war?

Module 8
April 21-22 (W Th of week 4)
Has neoliberalism destroyed the welfare state?

Module 9
April 26-27 (M Tu of week 5)
Is religion really declining?

Module 10
April 28-29 (W Th of week 5)
Is civic engagement dying out?

Module 11
May 3-4 (M Tu of week 6)
Is work getting better or worse?

Module 12
May 5-6 (W Th of week 6)
Are we heading toward economic democracy?

Exam 1 due: Friday, May 7, 11:59pm

Module 13
May 10-11 (M Tu of week 7)
Is the nuclear family a historical relic?

Module 14
May 12-13 (W Th of week 7)
Is the middle class disappearing?

Module 15
May 17-18 (M Tu of week 8)
Will school soon begin at age 1?

Module 16
May 19-20 (W Th of week 8)
How can we boost economic growth?

Module 17
May 24-25 (M Tu of week 9)
Can we stop climate change? How will it change us?

Module 18
May 26-27 (W Th of week 9)
Why is “populism” so popular?

Module 19
May 31 and June 1 (M Tu of week 10)
Has the United States become less democratic?

Module 20
June 2-3 (W Th of week 10)
What will “retirement” be like when living to 100 becomes the new normal?

Exam 2 due: Tuesday, June 8, 11:00am


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”). This means examining empirical evidence and reasoning rather than relying solely on theory or ethical beliefs. For any given hypothesis, we should ask: “If this hypothesis were correct, what kinds of things would we expect to observe? Do we observe them? What conclusion should we draw?” For each topic we cover, there will be one or more readings and videos. Focus on the question(s) being posed, the answer(s) given, the key pieces of evidence, and the way the author reasons in reaching a conclusion.

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.

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.

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:

  • This course won’t try to convince you that everything is awful. 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 we could be doing better and yet things have been improving.
  • We won’t focus on sociological 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 the functionalist, conflict, and interactionist theoretical perspectives that are prominent in some sociology textbooks.
  • We’ll pay little attention to influential theorists. For this, consider taking a sociological theory or history of sociology course.
  • In some social science and humanities 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 assistant 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%: quizzes
  • 30%: discussion board comments and responses
  • 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: (quizzes average grade x .30) + (discussion board 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.


For each module, beginning with the third, you will take a short quiz on the readings and lecture videos. There will be 18 quizzes; only your highest 14 grades will count. 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 for 48 hours, from 12:01am on the first day until 11:59pm on the second day. 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.


Once per week, beginning in week 2, you’ll write a short comment on assigned readings/videos and post it to a discussion board on Canvas. These are due at 11:59pm on Tuesdays. You will also write brief responses to the comments of two other students. These responses are due at 11:59pm on Thursdays. You have to post your own comment before you’re allowed to see the comments posted by other students.

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

Grading for each discussion board comment and responses:

  • 100: comment and responses submitted on time, good quality, well written, comment includes evidence
  • 75: comment and responses submitted on time but low quality or poorly written or comment doesn’t include evidence
  • 50: comment or responses submitted late, or only a comment but no responses
  • 25: comment or responses submitted late and low quality or poorly written or no evidence
  • 0: no comment submitted

There will be 9 discussion boards. Only your 8 highest grades will count.


Each exam will have one question. The question will be posted on Canvas one week 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.