Students discussion social theory on SOCI 380.

Title of the Course –  Social Theory

Instructor –  Sergio Chávez

Department – Sociology

Course Number - SOCI 380

Intended Student Audience- Undergraduates; Sociology majors and minors

Course Description

In this class we will treat social theory as a lens for understanding the modern social world and constructing explanations for changes in society. There are three main course goals. First, we will consider the role of theory in sociological research. Second, we will examine how the theorists’ ideas were shaped by the social and historical context in which they were produced.  Third, we will weave together and apply the work of social theorists to the modern world in which we live in. We will accomplish these goals by reading original texts and empirical readings to examine how sociologists draw on theory to explain the modern world.     

Social theory is at its richest when we seek to consider a diversity of human experiences and that should be no different in the classroom. The [speed dating] activity reflects this in addition to encouraging dialogue with different classmates.
— Sociology/Kinesiology major, Class of '18


How to encourage deeper conceptual understanding of sociological theories?

SOCI 380 is a requirement for sociology majors and minors. It is among the most challenging courses to teach because many sociology students postpone taking social theory until their last year of study, focusing instead on empirically based sociology courses. Therefore, Chávez's class seeks to train students who are well versed in the empirical and methodological foundations of sociology in more abstract 'sociological thinking.' Chávez faces the challenge of guiding them through, what is often, their first exposure to reading and analyzing primary sociological texts and encouraging them to engage deeply with challenging sociological theories and concepts.


One of main pedagogical approaches Chávez unitizes to develop students' sociological thinking is to make the material relevant to their everyday lives. Since many of the class texts and readings were written fifty to a hundred years ago, Chávez looks for contemporary examples with which student's can deepen their understanding of the concepts and theories. Chávez says that one of the best resources for contemporary examples are the students themselves. Therefore, he focuses on activities that encourage peer-to-peer instruction and are fun and engaging at the same time. One of his favorite in-class activities is "speed-dating for exam review." Chávez utilizes this activity before the midterm exam to provide students with a quick in-class review of the concepts and theories they will be responsible for knowing. The activity provides students with the opportunity to refine their understanding, articulation, and application of concepts. The conceptual foundation for the activity is itself a review of a concept students recently studied - rationalization. Chávez begins the activity by discussing how 'speed-dating' is an example of the rationalization of intimate relationships between people. For the rest of the class session students rotate into new pairs every two minutes over a series of short "review dates." During each "review date" students are asked to discuss and find examples for a concept that is given to them on a prompt. At the end of two minutes they move on to a new "review date" with a different student and repeat the process. Chávez says that one of the benefits of this activity is that it creates a fun and relaxed learning environment for students who are often nervous about their understanding of the course material heading into the first midterm exam.

Hearing how other people phrase sociological concepts in their own words was great because the readings are a bit dense since they’re primary sources, but this helped break it down. It felt really good to be able to help my fellow students understand a concept they weren’t quite getting before.
— Sociology/English Major, Class of '17


When the "speed dating" begins the classrooms erupts in discussion, excitement, and some nervous laughter. Chávez found that students are rarely hesitant to dive quickly into conversation about the concepts and theories. However, since there are anywhere from 10-20 pairs of students during each "review date" it is difficult for Chávez to keep track of all student discussions and monitor them for any misconceptions that might need to be addressed. To address this he circulates quickly between pairs of students during "review date" sessions for particularly difficult concepts looking for common misunderstandings that he can address at the end of the class session.

Dr. Sergio Chavez


Sergio Chávez is an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University. He received his B.A. in sociology from the University of California Davis and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. Dr. Chávez has conducted field research in Tijuana and Guanajuato, Mexico and North Carolina on internal and international migration, labor markets, social networks, and the border. His book BORDER LIVES (2016) examines the dynamic migration and working strategies border migrants employ on a daily basis as immigration policies, border enforcement, economic restructuring, and social resources evolve in the cross-border urban environment of Tijuana. Dr. Chávez teaches courses on social theory at the graduate and undergraduate level, qualititative methods, and work and occupations.

Posted on February 21, 2017 and filed under Social Sciences.