Communication scholar at USC Annenberg

Syllabi

The Sociology of Communication

Course Description

The origins of the field of communication are often traced to psychological studies of propaganda after the First World War, but an alternate history might find the roots of the field in early 20th century studies in sociology on “symbolic interaction” and the constitution of social reality. According to this theoretical tradition, and those that followed from it, communication is the lifeblood of society, for it is through communication that social norms are learnt, expressed, and retransmitted and that society is organized. Whereas psychological studies of communication emphasize the effects and consequences of mass communications on individual consumers/audience members, communication research in the sociological tradition emphasize the ways in which communication establishes, maintains, and transforms social collectives and the ways in which individuals understand, contribute to, fit within, and, yes, are affected by those communicative collectives.

This course will provide students with a foundation in various sociological theories of communication from the early 20th century up to today. These theories include those in the symbolic interactionist tradition, as well as theories of mass media effects, the public sphere, media system dependency, social movements, and the network society, among others. A particular emphasis is placed on questions of community, the spread of social influence, the role of communication in the (trans)formation of social/political norms and opinions, and the use of communications media in the daily lives of citizens. Further emphasis is placed on how theories have evolved or been adapted to suit new technological environments.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the course, students will:

  • Understand the historical development of the sociology of communication;
  • Understand the role of communication in the construction and maintenance of the social system;
  • Be able to critically assess social theories of communication for their analytic value and empirical rigor;
  • Be able to analyze the influence of communication on individuals and institutions at various levels of society; and
  • Be able to apply social theories of communication to analyses of the contemporary media environment.

Required Readings

All course readings will be posted to the course Blackboard page; there are no texts that you are required to purchase. It is expected that you will come to each course meeting having thoroughly read each assigned reading and that you are ready with comments and questions to contribute to our group discussions.

Description and Assessment of Assignments

Social Analysis Paper (90 pts.)

For your first assignment you will be asked to draw on Edward T. Hall’s The Silent Language and one other text from unit one (“Social Worlds and the (Re)production of Social Reality”; i.e., Berger and Luckmann, Goffman, Dewey, Mead, Blumer, or Park) to analyze a social norm (of your choosing) that you have internalized as natural. How was it communicated to you? How has it taken on a value of social fact? How do you communicate the “factual-ness” of that norm to others in daily life?

Your response to these questions should be between 1,000 and 1,250 words and submitted via Turnitin on Blackboard, no later than the beginning of class on the day it is due (see weekly breakdown of the course schedule below). Papers will be evaluated on the clarity of your argument, the robustness of the evidence you employed, and your ability to analytically apply the theoretical perspectives discussed in the course.

Midterm Examination (135 pts.)

The midterm examination will focus primarily on the content of unit two (“Mass Communication and the Creation of Mass Society”) and will consist of a series of short answer and essay questions. The short answer questions will assess your basic comprehension of the different theoretical models discussed in the course, while the essay questions will assess your ability to compare and contrast theories in evaluating their intellectual usefulness and empirical validity.

Socratic Seminar (45 pts.)

For your final paper, you will be placed into one of four groups organized by theory cluster (see section on final paper below). Prior to submitting the final paper, in weeks 14 and 15, we will hold a series of “Socratic seminars” in which each student assigned to a group will engage in a public discussion about their perspectives on the relevant theory cluster (i.e., the analysis of the final paper). Toward the end of each seminar, students from the other groups, who will have been observing the public discussion, will pose questions and challenges to the debating group. These seminars should offer you a chance to workshop your final paper ideas and help you generate stronger arguments through deliberation.

Your participation in the Socratic seminar will be evaluated on the clarity of the presentation of your ideas, your ability to critique and/or engage with the ideas of your peers, and your ability to respond to critiques and/or challenges to your own ideas.

Final Paper (135 pts.)

For your final paper, you will be placed into one of four groups organized by theory cluster: The Social Construction of Reality, Communication Flows, The Public Sphere, or Media Systems & Communication Infrastructure. Placement into groups will be decided by a combination of stated preferences and instructor assignment (if preferences produce wildly unequal groups). In the paper, which should be written individually, you are expected to drawn on three to four of the course readings in your cluster (and any other course readings from outside your cluster you find helpful) plus one to two non-course texts in order to produce an argument about the nature of communication and society in that domain. The paper should answer questions such as: Which of these theoretical perspectives most accurately reflects the nature of communication in modern society? Why and in what ways are other perspectives less accurate? How might different theoretical models be combined to produce a better explanation of the relationship between communication and society today?

The course readings for each theory cluster are as follows:

The Social Construction of Reality:

  • Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann. 1967. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. London, UK: Penguin Books.
  • Blumer, Herbert. 1962. “Society as Symbolic Interaction.” In Human Behavior and Social Process: An Interactionist Approach, edited by Arnold M. Rose. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin.
  • Gamson, William A., David Croteau, William Hoynes, and Theodore Sasson. 1992. “Media Images and the Social Construction of Reality.” Annual Review of Sociology 18: 373–393.
  • Couldry, Nick, and Andreas Hepp. 2017. The Mediated Construction of Reality. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Communication Flows:

  • Lazarsfeld, Paul F., Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet. 1948. The People’s Choice: How the Voter Makes up his Mind in a Presidential Campaign. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  • Katz, Elihu, and Paul F. Lazarsfeld. 1955. Personal Influence: The Party Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
  • Weimann, Gabriel. 1982. “On the Importance of Marginality: One More Step into the Two-Step Flow of Communication.” American Sociological Review 47 (6): 764–73.
  • Bennett, W. Lance, and Jarol B. Manheim. 2006. “The One-Step Flow of Communication.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 608: 213–32.
  • Thorson, Kjerstin, and Chris Wells. 2016. “Curated Flows: A Framework for Mapping Media Exposure in the Digital Age.” Communication Theory 26 (3): 309–28.

The Public Sphere:

  • Lippmann, Walter. 1922. Public Opinion. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
  • Dewey, John. 1927. The Public and Its Problems. Chicago, IL: Swallow Press.
  • Habermas, Jürgen. 1974. “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article.” New German Critique 3: 49–55.
  • Bruns, Axel and Tim Highfield. 2016. “Is Habermas on Twitter? Social Media and the Public Sphere.” In Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics, edited by Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbo, Anders Olof Larsson, Christian Christensen, 56–73. London, UK: Routledge.
  • Walch, Katherine Cramer. 2004. Talking about Politics: Informal Groups and Social Identity in American Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Media Systems & Communication Infrastructure:

  • Ball-Rokeach, Sandra J. 1985. “The Origins of Individual Media-System Dependency: A Sociological Framework.” Communication Research 12 (4): 485–510.
  • Chadwick, Andrew. 2017. The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Ball-Rokeach, Sandra J., and Joo-Young Jung. 2003. “The Evolution of Media System Dependency Theory.” In Sage Handbook of Media Processes and Effects, edited by Robin L. Nabi and Mary Beth Oliver, 531–44. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Ball-Rokeach, Sandra J., Yong-Chan Kim, and Sorin Matei. 2001. “Storytelling Neighborhood: Paths to Belonging in Diverse Urban Environments.” Communication Research 28 (4): 392–428.
  • Hepp, Andreas, Piet Simon, and Monika Sowinska. 2018. “Living Together in the Mediatized City: The Figurations of Young People’s Urban Communities.” In Communicative Figurations: Transforming Communications in Times of Deep Mediatization, edited by Andreas Help, Andreas Breiter, and Uwe Hasebrink, 51—80. Cham, CH: Palgrave Macmillan.

Your final paper analyzing your theory cluster should be between 3,500 and 4,000 words and submitted via Turnitin on Blackboard, no later than the end of the university-assigned examination time. Papers will be evaluated on your ability to assess the value of differing theoretical perspectives, synthesize competing perspectives in inventive ways, and craft a compelling argument in defense of your theoretical ideas.

Grading Breakdown

Your final grade in the course will be calculated as follows:

Assignment                       Points    % of Grade

Social Analysis Paper          90           20

Midterm Examination          135          30

Socratic Seminar                 45           10

Final Paper                          135          30

Class Participation               45           10

TOTAL                                 450        100

Grading Scale

All course grades will be determined using the following scale:

A           95-100

A-          90-94

B+         87-89

B            83-86

B-          80-82

C+         77-79

C            73-76

C-          70-72

D+         67-69

D           63-66

D-          60-62

F            59 and below

Assignment Submission Policy

All assignment due dates and times are listed in the syllabus, either above in the “Description and Assessment of Assignments” section or below in the weekly breakdown of the course schedule. Assignments should be uploaded to Turnitin on Blackboard, as directed. Late submissions—even mere minutes late—will not be accepted unless you can provide sufficient documentation of extenuating circumstances, such as a hospital visit, a death in the family, etc.

Additional Policies

Attendance policy

You are expected to attend each meeting of the course. While attendance is not formally a part of your course grade, participation is, and if you do not attend you cannot participate. You are also expected to arrive to the course meetings on time, which means that you are prepared to begin active participation in meeting activities at the official start time. If you are 20 or more minutes late, you will receive at most half participation points for the day.

Classroom comportment

You will be expected to engage in thoughtful and considerate discussion with your colleagues and instructor. Please be sure to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue, and maintain a degree of mutual respect, willingness to listen, and tolerance of alternative perspectives and opinions. You will also be expected to communicate your opinions respectfully, with language appropriate to a collegial environment. Neither physical nor rhetorical violence will be tolerated at any point in time, inside or outside of the classroom.

Technology use

Laptops and tablets may be used during course meetings for note-taking purposes only. Rare exceptions will be made during specific activities or for the purposes of information verification in the context of group discussions. Mobile phones may not be used during class time, and they must be both put away and silenced. If technology becomes a distraction in the classroom during the semester, these privileges may be revoked.

Consultation

I am here to support your learning as best as I can. Please do not hesitate to visit me during office hours, email me, or set up a meeting. Common topics for consultations include clarification of course meeting and/or reading materials, help improving your writing, advice on study strategies, discussion of assignment grades, and clarifying course expectations. I strongly encourage you to utilize me as a resource to enhance your learning experience.

Email policy

You are welcome to email me about administrative or substantive questions you may have regarding the course. I will be happy to offer advice and/or clarification on these matters. However, before emailing me please make a diligent effort to find the answer yourself, whether that means consulting the course syllabus, checking the course Blackboard site, or reviewing your class notes. Questions that could easily be answered through one of those efforts will be answered with directions to do so. Although I generally respond to emails within a few hours, that is not always possible. If I do not respond within 24 hours, please email me again because something has gone wrong, either on your end or mine. Also, please note that I will not respond to emails between the hours of 9:00PM and 9:00AM, and weekend response times will be slower than on weekdays.   

Course Schedule: A Weekly Breakdown

I.  Social Worlds and the (Re)production of Social Reality

Week 1

Section A: How We Learn How to Be

  • Hall, Edward T. 1959. The Silent Language. New York, NY: Anchor Books. [“The Vocabulary of Culture” and excerpts from “The Major Triad.”]

Section B: How We Learn Who to Be and What to Do

  • Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann. 1967. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. London, UK: Penguin Books. [“The Reality of Everyday Life,” “Social Interaction in Everyday Life,” and excerpts from “Institutionalization.”]
  • Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York, NY: Anchor Books. [Introduction and excerpts from “Performances.”]

Week 2

Section A: Communication and Social Meaning: Lessons from the First Chicago School

  • Dewey, John. 1925. Experience and Nature. Chicago, IL: Open Court. [“Nature, Communication, and Meaning.”]
  • Mead, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, Self & Society, 317–28. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. [“Obstacles and Promises in the Development of an Ideal Society.”]

Section B: The Interactionist Approach to Communication and Society

  • Blumer, Herbert. 1966. “Sociological Implications of the Thought of George Herbert Mead.” American Journal of Sociology 71 (5): 535–44.
  • Blumer, Herbert. 1962. “Society as Symbolic Interaction.” In Human Behavior and Social Process: An Interactionist Approach, edited by Arnold M. Rose. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin.

Week 3

Section A: Local Media and Urban Community

  • Park, Robert E. 1922. The Immigrant Press and Its Control. New York, NY: Harper. [“Why There is a Foreign-Language Press.”]
  • Park, Robert E. 1949 [1925]. “The Natural History of the Newspaper.” In Mass Communication, edited by Wilbur Schramm. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Section B: Mass Media and Mass Community

  • Carey, James. 1989. Communication as Culture. Boston, MA: Unwin Hyman. [“A Cultural Approach to Communication.”]
  • Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London, UK: Verso. [“Cultural Roots.”]

II.  Mass Communication and the Creation of Mass Society

Week 4

Section A: Mass Communication as the Source of Modern Society

  • Lasswell, Harold D. 1948. “The Structure and Function of Communication in Society,” In The Communication of Ideas, edited by Lyman Bryson. New York, NY: Institute for Religious and Social Studies.
  • McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Introduction to Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Section B: Mass Communication and Shared Social Understandings

*** SOCIAL ANALYSIS PAPER DUE ***

  • Gerbner, George, and Larry Gross. 1976. “Living with Television: The Violence Profile.” Journal of Communication 26 (2): 172–99.
  • Goffman, Erving. 1974. Introduction to Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. London, UK: Harper and Row. 
  • Gamson, William A., David Croteau, William Hoynes, and Theodore Sasson. 1992. “Media Images and the Social Construction of Reality.” Annual Review of Sociology 18: 373–393.

Week 5

Section A: Mass Communication and the Creation of Mass Publics

  • Lippmann, Walter. 1922. Introduction to Public Opinion. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
  • Dewey, John. 1927. The Public and Its Problems. Chicago, IL: Swallow Press. [“Search for the Great Community.”] 

Section B: The Public Sphere

  • Habermas, Jürgen. 1974. “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article.” New German Critique 3: 49–55.
  • Eliasoph, Nina. 1990. “Political Culture and the Presentation of a Political Self: A Study of the Public Sphere in the Spirit of Erving Goffman.” Theory and Society 19 (4): 465–94.

Week 6

Section A: Mass Media and the Capitalist Domination of Everyday Life

  • Habermas, Jürgen. 1987. The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. [Excerpts from “Intermediate Reflections: System and Lifeworld.”]
  • Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. 2002 [1944]. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. [“The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.”]
  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1979. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [Introduction and excerpts from “Culture and Politics.”]

Section B: A Weaker Mass Media: Origins of the Two-Step Flow of Communication

  • Lazarsfeld, Paul F., Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet. 1948. The People’s Choice: How the Voter Makes up his Mind in a Presidential Campaign. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. [“The Nature of Personal Influence.”]
  • Katz, Elihu, and Paul F. Lazarsfeld. 1955. Personal Influence: The Party Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. [“Between Media and Mass,” “The Part Played by People,” and “The Two-Step Flow of Communication.”]

Week 7

Section A: Legacy of the Two-Step Flow of Communication

  • Katz, Elihu. 2001. “Lazarsfeld’s Map of Media Effects.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 13 (3): 270–79.
  • Katz, Elihu. 2006. “Lazarsfeld's Legacy: The Power of Limited Effects.” Introduction to Personal Influence: The Party Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications, by Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld, xv–xxvii. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
  • Weimann, Gabriel. 1982. “On the Importance of Marginality: One More Step into the Two-Step Flow of Communication.” American Sociological Review 47 (6): 764–73.

Section B: Media Systems and Social Dependency

  • Ball-Rokeach, Sandra J., and Melvin DeFleur. 1976. “A Dependency Model of Mass-Media Effects.” Communication Research 3 (1): 3–21.
  • Ball-Rokeach, Sandra J. 1985. “The Origins of Individual Media-System Dependency: A Sociological Framework.” Communication Research 12 (4): 485–510.
  • Ball-Rokeach, Sandra J. 1998. “A Theory of Media Power and a Theory of Media Use: Different Stories, Questions, and Ways of Thinking.” Mass Communication & Society 1 (1/2): 5–40.

Week 8

Section A: Mass Media in Social Context

  • Thompson, John B. 1995. The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. [Introduction and “Communication and Social Context.”]
  • Pan, Zhongdang, and Jack M. McLeod. 1991. “Multilevel Analysis in Mass Communication Research.” Communication Research 18 (2): 140–73.

Section B: *** MIDTERM ***

III.  Digital Technologies and the Networking of Society

Week 9

Section A: Rise of the Network Society

  • Castells, Manuel. 2000. “Materials for an Exploratory Theory of the Network Society.” British Journal of Sociology 51 (1): 5–24.

Section B: The New Communication Flows of the Network Society

  • Bennett, W. Lance, and Jarol B. Manheim. 2006. “The One-Step Flow of Communication.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 608: 213–32.
  • Thorson, Kjerstin, and Chris Wells. 2016. “Curated Flows: A Framework for Mapping Media Exposure in the Digital Age.” Communication Theory 26 (3): 309–28.

Week 10

Section A: The Public Sphere in the Network Society

  • Bruns, Axel and Tim Highfield. 2016. “Is Habermas on Twitter? Social Media and the Public Sphere.” In Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics, edited by Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbo, Anders Olof Larsson, Christian Christensen, 56–73. London, UK: Routledge.
  • Shirky, Clay. 2011. “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change.” Foreign Affairs 90 (1): 28–41.

Section B: A New Media System?

  • Chadwick, Andrew. 2017. The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. [Introduction, “The Contemporary Contexts of Hybridity,” and “The Political Information Cycle.”]

Week 11

Section A: Social Change in a Digital Era

  • Castells, Manuel. 2013. Communication Power. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. [“Digital Networks and the Culture of the Autonomy.”]
  • Earl, Jennifer, and Katrina Kimport. 2011. Introduction to Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Section B: Media and the Social Construction of Reality, Revisited

  • Couldry, Nick, and Andreas Hepp. 2017. The Mediated Construction of Reality. Cambridge, UK: Polity. [Introduction, “The Social World as Communicative Construction,” and Conclusion.]

IV.  Rediscovering the Local Social World in Communication

Week 12

Section A: Getting Offline: Revisiting Communication and Urban Community

  • Friedland, Lewis A. 2001. “Communication, Community, and Democracy: Toward a Theory of the Communicatively Integrated Community.” Communication Research 28 (4): 358–91.
  • Katz, Vikki S., and Keith N. Hampton. 2016. “Communication in City and Community: From the Chicago School to Digital Technology.” American Behavioral Scientist 60 (1): 3–7.

Section B: Communication Infrastructure and Community Connectedness

  • Ball-Rokeach, Sandra J., and Joo-Young Jung. 2003. “The Evolution of Media System Dependency Theory.” In Sage Handbook of Media Processes and Effects, edited by Robin L. Nabi and Mary Beth Oliver, 531–44. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Ball-Rokeach, Sandra J., Yong-Chan Kim, and Sorin Matei. 2001. “Storytelling Neighborhood: Paths to Belonging in Diverse Urban Environments.” Communication Research 28 (4): 392–428.

Week 13

Section A: Digital Technologies in Everyday Communication: Communicative Figurations

  • Hepp, Andreas and Uwe Hasebrink. 2018. “Researching Transforming Communications in Times of Deep Mediatization: A Figurational Approach.” In Communicative Figurations: Transforming Communications in Times of Deep Mediatization, edited by Andreas Help, Andreas Breiter, and Uwe Hasebrink, 15—48. Cham, CH: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Hepp, Andreas, Piet Simon, and Monika Sowinska. 2018. “Living Together in the Mediatized City: The Figurations of Young People’s Urban Communities.” In Communicative Figurations: Transforming Communications in Times of Deep Mediatization, edited by Andreas Help, Andreas Breiter, and Uwe Hasebrink, 51—80. Cham, CH: Palgrave Macmillan.

 Section B: Face-to-Face Again

  • Walch, Katherine Cramer. 2004. Talking about Politics: Informal Groups and Social Identity in American Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. [“The Public’s Part of Public Discussion.”]
  • Southwell, Brian G., and Marco C. Yzer. 2009. “When (and Why) Interpersonal Talk Matters for Campaigns.” Communication Theory 19 (1): 1–8.
  • Nielsen, Rasmus Kleis. 2012. Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. [“Personalized Political Communication in American Campaigns.”]

Week 14

Section A: *** FINAL PAPER SOCRATIC SEMINAR #1: The Social Construction of Reality ***

Section B: *** FINAL PAPER SOCRATIC SEMINAR #2: Communication Flows ***

Week 15

Section A: *** FINAL PAPER SOCRATIC SEMINAR #3: The Public Sphere ***

Section B: *** FINAL PAPER SOCRATIC SEMINAR #4: Media Systems & Communication Infrastructure ***

Final Examinations Week

*** FINAL PAPER DUE BY END OF UNIVERSITY-ASSIGNED EXAMINATION TIME ***

Thomas J Billard