Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Soc 419/519 started this week

“The intended effects of new technology are nothing compared to the unintended effects… the Internet is an accident. . . . Nobody planned it. If we had planned it, they wouldn’t have let us do it… if somebody had showed up in 1960 and said ‘this is what we’re going to do: it’s going to do everything and it’s going to put pornography in your daughter’s bedroom…’ it wouldn’t have been allowed. - William Gibson

Overview of Sociology 419/519 at Ohio University

In recent years, social change has been driven by the intended and unintended effects of technologies that make it easier for people to “do things together”. Email made communication easier. Cell phones made coordination with friends easier. Web pages made distribution of materials easier. Blogs . . . . Wikis. . . . Social network sites. . . These technological innovations are inherently social. They are altering, and will alter, the lives of individuals, the dynamics of group, the fates of organizations, the development of cultures, and the course of history. This course studies social change by combining research on group processes with contemporary examples from around the world and the depths of ‘cyberspace’. This course provides a general framework, specific concepts, and a think tank for articulating new connections between social science and social change in contemporary life. We will place special emphasis on an international and cross cultural perspective, highlighting similarities and differences between North America and South-East Asia. Through their own digital media creations students will play an active role in the public, trans-national discussion of the nature and trajectory of these changes.

We will be using google documents, skype, and etherpad to facilitate interaction and collaboration in the course. We have a wide range of readings, but will start the first week with Clay Shirky's recent book: "Here comes everybody". After an introduction to the course we will focus on three general areas: networks, collective action, and social psych aspects of status, identity, and roles.

The class will engage in three general tasks:

  1. Understand that social change is an emergent process. Group processes (as I understand it) is focused on understanding how collective outcomes result from the actions and interaction of people in social contexts. Thus constraints and opportunities of the context or situation combine with attributes and actions of individuals and the structure of their interaction to result in collective outcomes. In this sense, outcomes, like the extent that a meme spreads, or the level of contribution to collective goods in a particular group, are emergent outcomes of people doing things together. Looking for evidence of emergent outcomes, and testing models of processes that can account for patterns in emergent outcomes are a major focus of this course. Collective outcomes can vary in scale from the quality of conversation in a given course meeting, to the global diffusion of cell phones or 'mobiles'. Research, because it has to have DATA, tends to study small to medium collective outcomes, while our discussions will range across the full scale.
  2. Survey the most relevant theories, processes, institutions, structures for understanding social change. This task will take us on a tour of major areas of research across several disciplines in order to understand parts of social systems in ways that help us understand, explain and predict social change at a variety of scales. Our aim will be to build a toolbox of concepts that we can apply to concrete social situations and situations in order to better understand the dynamics of that example.
  3. Make new connections between the components of social change and contemporary examples. This is the especially creative aspect of the course. All members of the class are required to identify, discuss and explain examples drawn from social situations in contemporary life. Emphasis will be placed on examples that could become potential research topics and those that are interesting and important, but unlikely to be tested or answered through actual research.

Students will select from a range of options for the various assignments. Ultimately final grades will be based on a digital portfolio of their contributions and creations in the course. Some of those creations will appear on this and other blogs. Stay tuned.

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