Public Sociology Readings

Burawoy, Michael. 2005. “For Public Sociology.” American Sociological Review 70(1):4–28.

Michael Burawoy: For Public Sociology ASA Presidential Address

  • Part 2: For Public Sociology ASA Presidential Address
  • Part 3: For Public Sociology ASA Presidential Address
  • Part 4: For Public Sociology ASA Presidential Address
  • Part 5: For Public Sociology ASA Presidential Address

Added by: Janae Teal
Last updated: 11 November 2014

Groves, Robert M.2011. “Three Eras of Survey Research.” Public Opinion Quarterly. 75(5):861-871

The author gives a great overview of the three ‘distinct’ modern eras of survey research. The eras are: 1930 – 1960 Era of Invention; 1960-1990 Era of Expansion ; and 1990- the Present “Designed Data” Supplemented by “Organic Data.” Groves does a good job of noting the differences in data collection and the types of tools used. He also gives a good overview about who is conducting the research and for what end. But, he lacks in critical inquiry. He does not analyze the features or consequences of each given era. For example, when describing the role of government in the second era, he does not critically analyze how this effected the nature or content of surveys or the surveyors and their relationship with the participants, or who the survey participants are. In his conclusion paragraph he begins discussing how the emerging data industry in our current ‘era’ for web-based data is increasingly privatizing our information for market growth rather than for better societal understanding. As a reader, I wish the author had taken his writing a step further in detail and depth.

Added by: Hanna Menefee
Last updated: 8 December 2014

Messinger, A. M. 2012. “Teaching Content Analysis through Harry Potter.” Teaching Sociology 40(4):360–67

In this article, the author uses the music from the Harry Potter films as a way to introduce his undergraduate sociology students to content analysis. He defines content analysis as “the study of social artifacts (human creations, such as books, laws, art and media)…these data are then coded (divided into categories), a process that typically involves counting he frequency and/or comparing co-occurrences of categories” (2). Messinger argues that the goal of content analysis is to develop theories inductively, so that the data can be explained more thoroughly. Content analysis, as he argues can be a difficult topic to teach to undergraduates, and therefore should be done in a creative and interactive way. This is why he chose Harry Potter. He argues that Harry Potter film music is a strong data source for three reasons: (1) it is appealing and therefore memorable to students, (2) its reliance on musical rules lends itself to coding, and (3) the data allows for a social science research goal/question to be illustrated. This study took place during the 2010 school year in a four-year city college in New York. Of the 59 students that could participate in the study, 49 students consented to participate. Student participants were given a pretest questionnaire, seeking demographic information and educational information regarding sociology and research methodology experiences. Following the questionnaire, students were given a brief lecture on the terminology that would be used in the study. They received code sheets from the professor, and began watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Students were asked to code the music in various scenes of the movie. The exercise was concluded by discussing the coding process and examining the data the students had collected. Messinger found that overall, students seemed to not only enjoy the exercise, but they found it beneficial. 71% of students reported that the exercise was helpful in learning content analysis and 74% found the exercise enjoyable. The author notes that due to a small sample size, this study is not generalizable, but overall finds his approach successful.

Added by: Janae Teal
Last updated: 30 November 2014

W.S. Spear (2013) Marketing strategies to motivate participation in municipal recycling programs. (published theses)

Intro has good basic statistics regarding waste production. This case study takes place in New Hampshire so specifics may not be completely generalizable, but good information about case studies in general and some ideas about how to execute them can be found in this example. Specifically, the nature of the study was to understand why people engage in recycling or not. The author used the explanatory case study method (used when a researcher wants to compare multiple case studies and discover causal relationships between specific factor and specific results). Research question was: what are the marketing strategies that will motivate residents to recycle at levels above the national average? Questionnaires were used as well as interviews. “Consumer behavior” section see pg 16 (e.g. passive vs. active forms of promotion and theory of planned behavior/self-awareness). Also of interest was the “teleological and deontological theories” (pg. 21) and the concept of “consumer misbehavior” as it relates to recycling. Incentives for recycling, see page 39.  EPA recycling report, see pg. 41. Pro-environmental social marketing, see pf. 59. Methods sections (pg. 70) discussed qualitative research and case studies, could be helpful.

Added by: S. Lucarelli
Last updated: 4 December 2014

J. Ball, W. Caldwell, & K. Pranis (2010) Doing Democracy with Circles. Living Justice Press, St. Paul, Minnesota

While this book is primarily written for planners, there are many applicable skills for focus groups and dispute resolution; also includes good skills for public participation. Inclusive involvement, awareness of potential for the majority rule to operate oppressively, consciously created safe spaces, emphasis on “circles” with the idea that circles can be an expression of democracy, deep listening to one another, and striving to understand the “whole story” are examples from the book that could be integrated into focus group settings, some more or less depending on the specific situation at hand. Some pages that especially struck me (and seemed pertinent to focus groups) were: pg. 21-22 (honoring and handling emotions); pg. 30 (reasons to use circles); pg. 33-48 (circle structures, values, great image pg. 37); pg. 55 (different circles for different uses); pg. 62 (practical uses across society); great image pg. 100 (“elements of circle that can contribute to conventional public participation”); prep sheet pg. 173; pg. 143 (valuing conflicts); pg. 159 (the “big questions”); pg. 165 (common ground and justice).

Added by: S. Lucarelli
Last updated: 4 December 2014

Bardach, Eugene. 2003. “Policy Analysis and Public Participation.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. 22(1):115-117. Retrieved Dec 9, 2014. (

“Nevertheless, the right question is not whether public engagement produces good policy results in an absolute sense; it is whether it improves the results that would have been obtained otherwise.”

Eugene Bardach here is making the argument for public involvement in policy analysis and decisions. There is a focus on “deliberative polls” which involve (1) selecting a representative panel of citizens (2) educating them about the issue currently before the polity (3) structuring a weekend-long deliberation among members (4) polling the panel member’s opinions before and after deliberation and (4) making results known to decision-makers and the public. The main objective is good public policy, public education and increased legitimacy as important but secondary. The idea of the “counterfactual” is also important – this is ‘facts’ that counter public opinion presented by other parties. In the example of a military base clean-up, he explains “the plausible counterfactual is having the military services make decisions with representations of the community’s interests coming only from sources internal to the services themselves” (p.116). Although short, this piece is informative and sheds light onto a crucial consideration in policy analysis and implementation.

Added by: Hanna Menefee
Last updated: 9 December 2014

Taylor, Frank. 2003. “Content Analysis and Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Books.” Teaching Sociology 31(3):300–311.

In this article, the author tackles one of the most difficult tasks we face when teaching introductory courses in sociology: “convincing students that society plays a larger role in directing their behavior and shaping their lives” (300). In particular, this article focuses on gender stereotypes that can be found in children’s books. Taylor argues that one way to get students interested in learning about gender and society is to use qualitative methodological tools. In this study, “students examine the text, symbols, characters, use of color, and major themes” (302) in popular Dr. Seuss children’s books. The author proposes five learning objectives for this assignment/study: (1) demonstrate that gender ideology is embedded in children’s books, (2) uncover dimensions of gender ideology through content analysis, (3) connect gender ideology in children’s books to gender inequalities in the broader society, (4) articulate whether the books are simple reflections of innate gender differences, and (5) facilitate a discussion on patriarchy and sexism. Taylor asks his students to pay particularly close attention to manifest and latent content. Manifest content, he argues, is an artifact of social communication that refers to an element that is physically present and can be accounted for. Latent content on the other hand, is content that requires interpretative reading by the researcher, who must interrogate the symbolic meaning of the data in order to uncover its significance (303). With that, the study was broken into four steps.

  • Step One: Divide the class into small groups of two or three students. Each group develops a list of operational definitions of the gender stereotypes they will code.
  • Step Two: In their small groups, students will work with a Dr. Seuss children’s book and code it using their list developed in step one.
  • Step Three: After groups are done coding, they will share their findings and observations with the class. They are expected to explain how their particular book exemplifies gender stereotypes. While students are presenting, the professor writes summaries on the board to give students a visual to facilitate discussion.
  • Step Four: Students will be asked to write a short reflection paper in which they discuss their experience with the exercise. This reflection paper is used as data for this study.

The author finds that through student feedback, the exercise does indeed help students identify gender stereotypes in popular children’s books. As one student stated, “I realized that children are introduced to racism, social class, and sexual roles at a very young age and they don’t even know it. I think the reason we did this exercise was to prove the point that we, as children, are unable to avoid these biases we grow up with. They are everywhere, even in children’s books” (309).

Added by: Janae Teal
Last updated: 10 December 2014

Witten, Karen, Exeter, Daniel, and Field, Adrian.2003.”The Quality of Urban Environments: Mapping Variation in Access to Community Resources.” Urban Studies 40(1):161-177

In their 2003 article for Urban Studies titled “The Quality of Urban Environments: Mapping Variation in Access to Community Resources”, Karen Witten, Daniel Exeter, and Adrian Field reveal that research has indicated that there is a relationship between space and place.  In other words, community infrastructure can be a determinate of health.  Community mapping can provide social researchers with a valuable research tool.  Witten and colleagues describe how they use the Community Resource Accessibility Index (CRAI).  This index is compiled with data collected using Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  Via GIS provides geographic coordinates that match certain addresses and locations.  These coordinates are called data points.  Researches can map locations of parks, grocery stores, libraries, recreational facilities, public transportation, Dr.’s offices and clinics.  They can also map locations of car accidents, locations of different disease diagnoses, location of factories and dumps, and other places that can have an impact on health.  Community is most effective when researchers use a network approach, as opposed to a Euclidean approach.  A network approach is more practical because it identifies distances residents would need to travel to reach certain destinations, as opposed to Euclidean which measures only a straight line, or in other words as the crow flies.  Mapping the information allows researchers to have a birds’ eye view so to speak, a pulled out macro approach which allows researchers to see the big picture.  Community mapping can help narrow gaps that cause health inequalities.

Added by: Michael Griffey
Last updated: 12 December 2014

Hermanowicz, Joseph C.2013.”The Longitudinal Qualitative Interview” Qualitative Sociology 2013(36):189-208

When examining social problems it is quite useful to use a macro approach to analyze data over time.  Longitudinal qualitative interviews, or what Joseph Hermanowicz calls LQI’s in is 2013 article for Qualitative Sociology titled “The Longitudinal Qualitative Interview” allow researchers to identify changes over time.  These changes may be subtle, however when analyzed over time may prove to be significant.  Hermanowicz traces the history of the LQI and points out that LQI’s and American sociology both have their origins in the Chicago School of Sociology.  Formerly conducted cross sectional research projects can be revisited and re-opened to conduct further LQI’s.  LQI’s allow for researchers to observe develops that occur over time. Longitudinal qualitative interviews also allow a rapport to be built between interviewers and respondents, which could likely lead to greater disclosure.  When placed together, the results of interviews conducted over a long period of time can be extremely valuable to social scientists.

Added by: Michael Griffey
Last updated: 12 December 2014

Kwak, Young Hoon, John Walewski, Dana Sleeper, and Hessam Sadatsafavi. 2014. “What can we learn from the Hoover Dam Project that influenced modern project management?” International Journal of Project Management 32(2):256-264.

This paper examines the project and program management techniques applied to the building of the Hoover Dam; a megaproject that was completed two years ahead of schedule and under budget, despite political, economical, technical, and organizational obstacles. The authors discuss how these factors contributed to the establishment and evolution of modern project management principles, tools, and techniques.

“The most important characteristics of the project, which are believed to have the highest contribution to the success of the Hoover Dam, can be summarized as follows:

  • Project development activities including feasibility study, site selection, and conceptual design essential for satisfying legislative requirements as a result of which project mission, scope, and challenges were clear for all the parties involved with the project and helped them overcome project issues;
  • Close relationship between project participants specifically Bureau of Reclamation and Six Companies, Inc. both at the field level and the executive level;
  • Ensuring the design and engineering activities by assigning a design review board and implementing effective change management processes which minimized rework and delay during construction;
  • Establishing a clear chain of command in the owner and contractor organizations to adjust relationships both internally and externally; and
  • Supporting the project by securing adequate annual funding and relevant legislative and regulatory facilities” (Kwak et al:263)

The authors recognize that this project would not be successful if implemented today, due to the changing nature of relationships between government and business, technological advances, and outsourcing.” They conclude the article by stating, “Constructive relationships between project participants, effective project development and change management practices, and commitment of the project owner to support the project are among the key factors and innovative practices used by project participants” (263).

Added by: Nicole Chappelle
Last updated: 19 December 2014

McCawley, Paul F. 2009. “Methods For Conducting an Educational Needs Assessment.”University of Idaho Extension. 870:1-23.

“A needs assessment is a systematic approach to studying the state of knowledge, ability, interest, or attitude of a defined audience or group involving a particular subject” (3). Needs assessments are used to learn about important issues and problems faced by the public. A needs assessment provides a method to learn about what exists and what is needed. The author goes into great detail about how to conduct a needs assessment, outlining the methodological steps, how to select a target audience, designing surveys and questions, administering surveys, data analysis, interviews, and focus groups. This is a detailed article that provides a step by step approach for each phase of conducting needs assessments.

Added by: Nicole Chappelle
Last updated: 19 December 2014

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