This is an archived course. A more recent version may be available at


This syllabus is an adaptation and elaboration of a course originally conceptualized in the 1990s by Patricia Ewick, Sociology Department, Clark University, and Lee Cuba, Sociology Department, Wellesley College.

Syllabus (PDF)

Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

How can the individual be at once cause and consequence of society, a unique agent of social action and also a social product? Why are some people accepted and celebrated for their particular features while other people and behaviors are considered deviant and stigmatized? This course examines theoretical perspectives on human identity, focusing on processes of creating categories of acceptable and deviant identities. We will discuss how identities are formed, how they vary, the forms and possibilities of unique or aggregate identities, how behaviors are labeled deviant, how people enter deviant roles and worlds, responses to differences and strategies of coping with these responses on the individual and group level. Rather than focus on the differences among various forms of deviant identity and behavior, we will consider the usefulness of various theoretical perspectives that attempt to explain patterns across diverse identities and differences. As we explore the meaning and experience of deviance, we will be simultaneously analyzing conformity. Throughout the course, we will use gender and sexuality as an example of frequently stigmatized forms of identity.

Course Requirements

Writing Assignments: 85% of course grade.

Writing assignments will vary in style and length. Some will be short responses to readings or lectures, others will demand close reporting of what a text contains, and yet others will require analysis and interpretation of texts, prior writing assignments, or empirical data.

1. Short assignments: (15%)

a. Abstracts of three readings, one from each of three different sections of the course syllabus. Due in Class #3 (section II), Class #6 (section III), Class #10 (section IV).

b. Full detailed outlines of three readings (other than the ones in 1a), one from each of three different sections of the course syllabus. Due in Class #3 (section II), Class #6 (section III), Class #10 (section IV).

c. Short one paragraph responses to reading. In preparation for class lectures and discussion, you will periodically be asked to prepare a brief response to a question or reading assignment. These will be collected in class and used for purposes of recording attendance. You are required to hand in these assignments personally. Throughout semester.

2. Analysis of the organizational structure, action, and themes of The Human Stain by Philip Roth, pages due in Class #5. 6-8 pages. First of three versions of the final paper due the last day of class. Details of assignment to be distributed in class and via email. (15%)

3. Interpretation of empirical data using theoretical perspectives on deviant identities, 6-8 pages. Due in Class #7. (25%)

4. Second draft of paper analyzing The Human Stain using perspectives and readings on identity and difference, 10-15 pages. Due in Class #9. (15%)

5. Final version of paper on The Human Stain. Due in Class #13. (15%)

Class Attendance and Participation: 15% of Grade.

6. You are expected to attend class, having completed the assigned reading on the syllabus before the class discussion on that reading.

7. Oral presentations: Students will be assigned to groups representing one of several different theoretical perspectives on the nature of identity and social differentiation. Students will orally present and defend the arguments and data from the assigned readings for that section of the course, including analyses from their writing on The Human Stain. Members of the other teams will prepare and offer critiques.

8. Depending on scheduling and availability, we may organize several film viewings to accompany readings and lectures. We will make the films available in the library as well as at assigned times.

9. Perfect class attendance will raise your final grade by 5%.

Note: MIT Criteria for HASS CI Subjects. Communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences should require at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments. Of these 3-5 assignments, at least one should be revised and resubmitted. HASS CI subjects should further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation.

Hopefully Helpful Hints

The work for this course is organized topically, rather than by class sessions. I will try to indicate where we are on the syllabus, as we go along.

You should try to read consistently, about 150 pages per week. I have indicated on the syllabus the level of attention you should devote to each reading, using the following coding scheme:

Full Notes (FN) means that you should try to produce an outline of the reading's argument, mimicking the sample I have provided for Conrad, "The Discovery of Hyperkinesis: Notes on the Medicalization of Deviant Behavior."

Abstract (ABS) means that you should try to write a one paragraph abstract of the readings main points. I have provided examples of useful and unhelpful abstracts for two readings, "The Discovery of Hyperkinesis: Notes on the Medicalization of Deviant Behavior," and Chambliss, "A Sociological Analysis of the Laws of Vagrancy."

As Time Allows (ATA) means that you should read as much as time allows and produce an abstract if possible. These readings are illustrative and flesh out the course arguments and evidence. They are sometimes very interesting. But, when you are pressed for time, these are the readings you can skip.

I have also attached a set of instructions for different ways of reading, with suggestions about how to work through the assignments for courses with heavy reading.

Instructions for written assignments will be given out at least one week before they are due and will be distributed via email. The calendar of assignments on the next page provides a road map for the written work for this communications intensive course.

Instructions for very short oral and written assignments will be given out via email or in class. These assignments should take 15-60 minutes, no more. They will be used for recording attendance and for enhancing communication skills.

Keep a copy for yourself of all work submitted for this course.

Finally, it is always helpful to contact the instructor if you are having difficulty completing the work assigned, understanding the assignments (reading or written assignments), or the class lectures. I am most accessible through email and will be happy to make an appointment to meet with you in my office.