Classes I Would Like to Teach

Teaching. It’s fun, it’s a nightmare, it’s a big part of our job, it’s highly unrewarded. Thinking about my experiences as a GSI*, I came up with three hybrid courses I’d love to teach someday that speak to my own interests but might also be fun for soc majors or graduate students.

Statistics and the Sociology of Statistics
The literature on the history and sociology of statistics and quantification is outstanding. From Ian Hacking’s histories of the emergence of quantitative styles of reasoning in the social science, to more critical contemporary work like McCloskey and Ziliak on the “Cult of Statistical Significance”, there is a lot of excellent research that practicing quantitative sociologists might really appreciate. At the same time, qualitative and historical sociologists might enjoy learning about the history and criticisms of contemporary quant practices. The course would pair these readings with actual quant methods – so we might read about the history of eugenics and statistics and heredity, and then read some contemporary papers that use similar methods or have similar problematics, and then study some of the methods used. This one would likely require a co-instructor who actually does quant work all day, which would be half the fun. The level of detail and the methods taught would depend a lot on whether it was for grad students or undergrads. Final paper could be a qualitative or historical paper about statistics or quant methods, or a quant methods project informed by the history.

“What do economists do all day?”
This class would cover the sociology of economics, including some brief forays into the soc of knowledge, professions and STS, and then a more focused treatment of the recent literature on economics proper (Fourcade, Babb, Mitchell, MacKenzie, Bernstein, Mirowski). We would also read some classic and contemporary texts in economics – some bits of Smith, Ricardo, Marshall, Keynes, maybe Hayek, Friedman, Becker and then some contemporary papers. The class would have guest lectures for economics graduate students or faculty to talk about their current research. The goal would be to demystify contemporary economics, as well as introduce key topics from STS and the professions lit in the context of social science (advocacy vs. objectivity, performativity, professionalization struggles, “science”?, etc.) and perhaps reflect on what it means that economics so often serves as Sociology’s disciplinary Other.

Social Theory through Science Fiction
I’ve talked about this one before, so I won’t say too much more.

Ok, I don’t think graduate students are supposed to think this much about what courses they would someday like to teach. So if anyone on my committee is watching, forget I ever said anything, and pretend I was doing research!

* Graduate Student Instructor, what Michigan calls TAs because we aren’t just assisting!

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  1. If you ever draft a dream syllabus for the Sociology of Statistics course, please post it here! I’ve been wanting to read up on that, but I’m not sure what’s out there beyond Hacking, Mackenzie, and Prevost.

  2. Chloe

     /  March 31, 2011

    I really like #1 – I’d like to teach that class myself. Political science has an arsenal of creepy work from the ’50s and onwards based on sound statistical principles. Makes me wonder what we will be saying about this decade twenty years from now.

    I think the starting point for an undergraduate class on the second subject would be Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers.

  3. Analogous to #3, I’d be interested to teach (or take!) a ‘Social Theory Through Dystopias’ class. The great dystopian novels of the 20th century echo so much classical social theory. Huxley and Orwell’s classics, along with Jack London’s The Iron Heel and Vonnegut’s Player Piano would all be on the list.

    • That would be fantastic! My first year undergrad writing class was on Nietzsche, but one week we read 1984 and talked about fascism. That was one of the best single classes I’ve ever attended (even if the course as a whole didn’t entirely work – a bunch of 17-18 year old kids talking about Nietzsche in a seminar is not always pleasant…). I’d toss in there “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by LeGuin, a short story that you should read right now if you haven’t!