Sociological Imagination

Jan 2011

I took this course, which is no longer offered, a couple of semesters ago, but since I'm graduating soon I think it'd be nice to acknowledges the classes and profs who were truly outstanding. This is the class that made me want to become a Sociology major, which in the end I didn't, but the class was certainly interesting enough that it enticed me to go down the Sociology path. Khan is really intelligent and he sounded really passionate about what he was talking about. Some of the material was a little dry -- as an overview course, there is some material you're bound to disagree with or dislike. I really appreciated, though, that Khan took the time to explain the readings; but most importantly, he also outlined some of the scholars' faulty thinkings or problems with the readings. Too often profs don't go out of the way to problematize the readings and this can lead to an incomplete education. So the class isn't offered anymore, but I would definitely take another class with Khan if I could. This means you should take a class with Khan, if he offers one you can take.

Jun 2008

I took this class randomly last year, and I have to disagree with what the other people have said about Khan. I think that he made a really good survey out of sociology and chose some of the most mainstream and vital texts. I am a sociology major now, and trust me, you NEED to know those texts. If fact, he chose them so well that I've had about 40% of those papers again on the syllabi for my required classes. If you're really interested in a major that is applicable to any grad school later on, you wouldn't mind doing the work. Besides, the papers are all critical summaries of the readings, NOT critiques. It also gets you into the rhythm of what to expect in other sociology classes...more writing. He might act like a jerk, but he presents almost everything at face value, and when he doesn't, he warns you that he's biased. And he doesn't treat students like a jerk.

Apr 2008

First off, Shamus made a 9AM class worth it. That cannot be said of too many classes at 9AM. I am majoring in Biochemistry, and taking a class in Sociology was a huge relief from all the science classes. Intro courses are usually boring, and from what I know, Intro Sociology classes are usually cut and dry from a textbook focusing on your typical race, gender and equality topics. Shamus was a new teacher, but he was absolutely brilliant. The man is a genius. He knew what he was talking about, and while his method of teaching the course departed from the traditional, I believe it made the course that much more engaging. While his opinions on particular topics were very strong, this made for engaging class discussions, even though the class was your typical Intro class size. The discussion was optional; whether you chose to ask/answer questions was entirely up to you. If you're the quiet type, listening to the discussion in itself was a reward. He is a bit arrogant, but you must admit, he is pretty damn smart. I think he is entitled to it. It did not make him any less of a teacher. While the workload was pretty intense since you had to read a great deal (several papers weekly in the first half of the term and then several chapters of books weekly in the latter half) and there were weekly papers, the material was interesting. You can drop a few papers and a couple of quizzes. The quizzes are on material from the previous week, and they are completely based on class notes. Studying for them was simple; a brief glance for 5-10 minutes the night before (or prior to class) sufficed. The best part of the course is having no midterm or final. It made learning the material much more engaging because I definitely believe that learning knowledge for the sake of an exam is a waste of time because the knowledge disappears immediately after the exam ends. I wish he were teaching classes this coming year. I would definitely take a class with him again. I can say this about Sudhir Venkatesh (who is teaching the course this coming fall 08). He is an amazing writer, and his research about the underground economy in Chicago is very eye-opening. Shamus assigned a book of his (Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor) for our class to read, and I must say I enjoyed that book the most.

Mar 2008

I honestly don't know what class the first reviewer was in, or what he was on when taking it. Everyone I talked to seemed to think what I think. Shamus is unbelievably smart. It's kinda astonishing when I think back to everything he covered in class. I don't know how anyone could know that much. He's also probably the best lecturer at Columbia. So not only does he know a lot. He's able to get it across to students, which is super-rare here at CU. The course was really interesting. The major problem wasn't him, it was his TAs (who were terrible). About the class: the course was an incredibly broad introduction to sociology and the social sciences more generally. I didn't realize how much I learned in the class until the next semester. In my sociology and political science classes I find that I have heard about just about all of the ideas we're covering. This is because Shamus introduced them to me. I marvel at how much was covered. The structure of the class was to introduce us to five major areas of sociology, which all corresponded to other social science disciplines. So you learn a lot about not just sociology, but also anthropology, political science, psychology, economics, and demography. For the first few weeks we read articles and for the rest of the class we read five books. The course was a lot of work, but Shamus tried to make sure that if you did the work you did well (the TAs tried to screw you. But in the end Shamus curved to make sure it was fair). Almost everything we read was really interesting. About lectures: the lectures are unbelievable. It's just the man and a piece of chalk. He makes ridiculous drawings on the board; he can't draw. He wanders back and forth, pacing like a caged animal. He talks quickly. And he kinda dresses more like a maintanence man than a professor. But oh my God can this man teach. At 9AM I found myself totally amazed. We learned about how race developed as a concept, world demographic trends, the formation of european states, how and why revolutions happen, how to think about culture, what nationalism looks like, the implications of colonialism, the development of genocide, the positive and negative affects of modernity, how to think about inequality, social movements, Marx, Foucault, Mill, gender, class, our emotional lives, etc., etc., etc. I can't even list it all or remember it all right now. It was totally crazy. I'm a junior and each class it was light a lightbulb went off. I suddenly realized what lots of professors in my other classes were trying to get at. As a freshman it might be overwhelming. But if you plan on majoring in the social sciences, it is probably the best class you can take. You'll get a very good introduction to most of what you'll be taught the rest of your time at CU. And not only does Shamus cover a lot, he covers it well. Like I said, it was 9AM and I was kept totally entertained by the man. Some of this is because he's quirky and weird. He's funny. He makes fun of himself and of the people in the class - particularly that the Ivys are places to educate rich people. This pissed some people off. But his humor wasn't mean. It was meant to highlight stuff we were talking about. And more often than not he was the butt of his own jokes. About the grading: There was a lot of work in the class. But Shamus warned us about this. He basically said that if you do the work and show up to class you'd get an A. Half way through the semester this seemed like a total lie, since the average grade in the class was a 70% or something. But he curved this to be a B+. About half the class gets an A or A-. The problem was totally the TAs. They didn't get the grading done on time. It actually took them up to a month and a half to get stuff back. They were terrible. And they were nasty about it. They almost ruined the class. Hopefully they won't be allowed to TA again. The grading is: no tests, no midterm, no final. Each week you have to hand in a two-page paper on the reading and take a quiz on the lecture. That's all. Shamus said we'd learn the material better this way. I totally didn't believe him, but it turned out to be true. It was a lot of work, and sometimes it felt like busy-work. You have to do all the reading and you have to go to class. If you're not willing to do that, the class will be tough. Overall, the class was amazing. I wish I'd taken it earlier in my career here at CU. But I'm pretty much telling everyone I know to take it. This year it was his first time teaching at CU. I'd guess it will only get better. And he's anything but an asshole. In fact, half way through the class he asked us what worked and what didn't work in the class. And he actually changed some stuff around based on our feedback. How many professors at Columbia do you know who would do that? He's really nice and funny, if it bit quirky and weird. Get in a class with him. It's totally worth the work.

Feb 2008

I agree with the last reviewer. This class has potential to make many students interested in sociology, but Khan does the opposite and deters the majority of the students. The readings are not only overly time-consuming, but the topics were too advanced and specific for an intro class. The plus of no midterm or final is completely overshadowed by the workload that Khan assigns. If you are a student taking only three other classes and has a fairly good sociological background and want to take a class taught by a self-proclaimed (and all too accurate) asshole, by all means sign up for this course with Khan. If that description doesn't apply to you, just wait until another professor teaches this class.

Dec 2007

Although I am very tempted to write a long review ripping this class and the way Shamus teaches it, I have decided to keep it brief. Shamus cares a great deal for his student and is extremely accommodating. On the last day of class, Shamus referred to himself as an arrogant asshole- this is 100% true and pretty much sums up the class. Although at times he can be funny, for the most part he is not. Most people take this class for an easy A and to filter those kids out he makes the workload ridiculously time consuming. On the first day he said it would be a lot of reading and writing and this would ensure that everyone was doing the work and you think that it sounds fair and you're willing to do work for each class because the idea of not having a midterm or final is so enticing- the reality is that the readings are long and boring and the 14 papers and 12 quizzes are not worth caring about in an intro so sociology. Bottom line is that this class might be worth taking if it is with a different professor, but Shamus makes this class extremely time consuming.

Nov 2007

Though he is a new teacher, Shamus is extremely intelligent and a phenomenal lecturer...he's also quite witty at times. The class is at 9, and I never want to wake up to go... but as soon as I get there, I am entranced. All in all, I found the readings interesting - we read from a bunch of different sources and books, and cover a wide variety of topics. You can tell that for the most part, Shamus tried to pick engaging papers. Some of the books are a bit dry, but its all bearable and some of it is really intriguing. The nice thing about this class is that there are no tests, not even a midterm or a final, and you can drop a few papers and quizes (see below for more info). So although there's a lot of work and it's a big time commitment, at least at first , theres very little pressure... and its set up so you can just skip and not do the reading an entire week , since you can drop grades - nice during midterms! Overall, it's a big time commitment - but if you have the time, its really rewarding and interesting, and not terribly difficult.

Aug 2007

Bright, interesting, interesTED, and engaging instructor who genuinely cares about her students and that they understand the subject matter. Is willing to go the extra mile, dig deeper and truly allow for discussion in the class. First class in which I genuinely felt that a real Discussion occurred on a regular basis, and not one between student/instructor but rather student/student/student/instructor. DEFINITELY take THIS class from THIS instructor. Do not miss this instructor...she's terrific.

Jan 2007

Great Professor. Her class has an excellent Q&A structure, so it's really easy to take notes. She opens with a list of key words which you should look out during the lecture. These are the same which you will be asked about in the tests. The readings she assigns are very interesting and very relevant to Sociology. Her lecture is so in point that sometimes you don't even need to do the readings, although they really help and most are really interesting/easy to read anyway. You get to see all the main Sociologists and by the end of the course you will have a very good general idea of what the branch is about.

Jan 2007

The reading list seems out of sync: the hard stuff (i guess they would be the funadmental readings) are in the beginning. the easier readings are after the midterm. so for the first half of the semester, you may be clueless. But after all the repitition, you start to get it--sort of. the TAs are not out to get you, so at least you'll score reasonably on the tests if you attend class. the readings are all on courseworks, so that cuts down on the cost of books (you only need one book which was a great read--really). Her teaching style seems to strive for discussion, but because our class was so big, only a few people dominated the class while she seemed to be hunting for the right answer. Note: make sure you copy all the terms she writes on the board at the beginning of every class, those are the IDs for the midterm and final. then the TAs add a couple questions (3-4) in which you pick one to turn into an essay. Go to the TA review sessions (prepare a studysheet beforehand so you have questions ready). I think Prof. Ferguson would have liked a smaller class to engage in discussion of the sociological theories and the techniques of the founding fathers. Because the class was so big, it seemed she was just waiting for someone to 'get it'.

Sep 2006

As a sociology major, I speak with some authority when I say this: don't take this class. Columbia's sociology department is full of great introductory classes -- this is not one of them. Sadly, it's the most popular intro sociology class and it's surely driving students away from a great department. A quick note: Evaluation of Evidence is the intro class to methodology. Sociological Imagination is the intro class to theory. To get a good taste of the fascinating subject that is sociology, take evaluation of evidence (josh whitford's class is great) -- it's the class that converted me (and many of my peers) into sociology majors. I have yet to meet anyone won-over by Sociological Imagination. Or, if you want to see this class taught right, take it in the spring with the masterful Gil Eyal. Students with previous coursework in sociology will enjoy this class, but most students will leave without a clue what sociology actually is -- the readings are interesting, but to the novice, the readings will seem random and pointless. Priscilla does a really poor job of explaining why/how the readings are sociology and why we should care about the subject.

Jan 2006

The readings were interesting, and the professor is nice, but this class just...dragged. She tried to make the 100 plus class a discussion, which failed miserably when nobody ever raised their hand to talk. This class is basically what you want to make of it. The readings are fascinating on their own, but most kids were busy on their laptops or...skipping. The midterm and final are easy, and the paper was graded generously -- just READ your actual book, and you'll be fine. Would recommend for an easy class, but not necessarily an enriching one. And if you never do any of the reading (which is definitely possible), GO TO THE REVIEW SESSIONS. The TAs are actually pretty helpful there.

Jan 2006

I couldn't stay awake. I mean honestly... I. Could. Not. She killed my interest in sociology. Every week, the lecture hall grew emptier as students realized that her lectures were a waste of time. I began to sit toward the back of the lecture hall, and from this vantage point I could clearly that most of the students who actually showed up were logging on to the facebook on their laptops. I certainly don't blame them. She basically summarized the reading in class and spent much more time than necessary discussing the obvious. This class went slowly.

Jan 2005

Personal curiosity led me me to take this intro to sociology class because I had never had any experience with the subject before. While I enjoyed the discussion format of the class, I often felt that the readings were pretty dry. Even if they were interesting, our class was not directed to inquire about the political and social implications behind the author's work. A good first class in the subject and a professor who knows what she is talking about. The TAs are very helpful as well in that they lead several review sessions throughout the semester.

Jan 2005

Understanding the key concepts is essential to getting by in this class. You don't have to read the excerpts from Marx or Weber or Durkheim... you just have to understand what they were trying to get across or what terms were most important to know. As a result, going to the class tended to be more useful than doing the readings on your own. I did find it impressive that Prof Ferguson wanted (and did) learn our names. She also didn't tolerate those kids who IM throughout class-- don't bring your laptop and expect to play games. Class could sometimes get annoying when the discussion was going nowhere or people were tired. By the end it bordered on tedious since no one cared enough to respond, and you could see her getting irritated. She trails off on the end of every sentence (you're best off sitting in the middle or front of the class if you want to hear her well). All in all, though, I liked her. She's friendly and helpful and really wants you to like the material. I definitely was able to learn some really cool stuff out of that class that I've applied or thought about outside of a strictly academic context.

Dec 2004

At first I was going to drop this class because I did not understand what was going on. After a while I got used to the style of the class and did not mind going since sometimes the discussions were somewhat interesting. Though the class is rather large, she managed to learn everyones name and would call on you if no one was answering her questions. I would recommend this class if you have a true interest in sociology. Otherwise you can find yourself falling behind in the readings, etc.

May 2004

Denise is a great instructor. She is always willing to answer questions and values every student's opinion. This class is very much a survey course, so don't expect to go into too much depth on any on sociologist or sociological theory. Basically, if you've already studied sociology, this class may be too basic and/or repetitive for you. However, if you haven't taken sociology before (or if you have and want an easy A and a chance to show off what you know..) then this class is for you. Denise is also really nice and is always available for office hourse.

May 2004

Inisghtful, warm, thought provoking. Denise Milstein offers a non-intimidating environment as an intoduction to sociology . Her intelligence regarding the material is astounding, yet she does not flaunt her knowledge. Participation is encouraged so if you fail to read the assignments it will show. I highly reccomend Denise Milstein in anything she teaches.

May 2004

One of the most interesting courses I've taken. Denise is extreemly intelligent, approachable, and insightful. She encourages class participation. It is part of your grade. If you give a wrong answer, she is not be condesending. Her assignments are intense and erudite. They require a great deal of time and attention. However they are interesting and often topical. You probably wont understand everything, or sometimes most, of what you've read. Don't panic. Denise's visual diagrams will clear things up in class. I would encourage you to take this course, or anything that Denise Milstein instructs. She's a winner!

May 2004

At first, I found this class to be very difficult. The assigned reading was very long, and, having never taken a sociology course before, I was unfamiliar with many of the theories and felt like they were a little over my head. However, Denise is a great instructor. She was always positive and listened to everyone's comments. Her lectures helped to explain some of the more difficult concepts from the reading, and, often, her lectures were led by providing answers to everyone's questions at the beginning of each class. Denise was very nice, and very approachable. Although I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about sociology at first, taking this class made the field more interesting to me, and it turned out to be a good experience.

May 2004

She is a delight. Enthusiastic about the topic. Open to conversation and requests for explanation. Clear in her explanations. She looks for classroom participation and discussions of the readings and ideas under consideration. Good first sociology course, and a great course in the hands of Denise Milstein. I heartily recommend it.

Apr 2004

Although I would not recommend this class, I think Prof. Ferguson's teaching style should not be confused with her qualities as a person. I found the presentation of the materials to be a liitle boring, but I took what I thought was valuable from her class and made the most of it. I found her to be very approachable and easy to talk to. A short 20 minute conversation with her during office hours made all the difference for me in terms of my understanding the contents of the class. Take the time to make a connection with her and I think you will find her to be sharper than what meets the eye.

Jan 2004

Creative, thoughtful and thought provoking teacher. She is a fair grader and wants students to succeed. You'll get what you deserve. She does not hesitate to give an A to someone who has earned it. It is a challenging course but with effort and her reliable office hours you are sure to succeed. She lectures at times but for the most part encourages class participation which is key to getting a good grade. And when she does lecture she makes sure to pause and make sure everyone is with her. I recommend this course even if you are not a sociology major.

Dec 2003

I agree with the other reviewer that Greg is amazing, but I disagree about the material. I thought Greg picked really interesting articles and topics that were worth discussing. He's VERY available outside of class and very accomodating as far as due dates are concerned, as long as you give him a legitimate reason. He's not only extremely knowledgeable in regards to social theory, but also clever and very capable of guiding an intelligent discussion. Just do the reading and participate in class (he can transform anything you say into an interesting comment, so don't be afraid of looking stupid) and you will be fine. He really does care about whether you enjoy the material he brings up and wants you to learn and think about social phenomena and concerns.

Nov 2003

GREAT Professor. The class itself it's especially difficult, but having him as a professor makes the dry material seem more interesting. He makes a effort to engage his students and the class is more of a discussion that a lecture. He respects students opinions and will not blatantly tell you you're wrong but more guide you in the right direction. Over all it's a good class to take, even inf you're not a sociology major.

Jan 2003

The readings are long, dense, and probably the best part of this class. Polletta engaged the class from the first with her lectures, but problems arise when she tries to mix lecture with discussion. When she tries to control the flow of discussions so that the class "discovers" on its own the point she is trying to get across, often she responds to students' comments as if they had said something completely different (what she wanted them to have said). She avoids addressing opinions that differ from those of the sociologist currently being studied, or she explains why the student misunderstood the argument. Often, she refers to a dissenting statement as a "question," implying that the student was confused. However, even with the rough spots, the mix of discussion into the lectures seemed to help the class to digest the readings in smaller pieces, and sometimes gave life to the topics. Polletta helped the class analyze elements of everyday life, and used the conclusions to explain some old sociological theories. Since TA's do much of the grading, papers and exams often seem to receive arbitrary marks. Talking to Polletta after a grade that seems arbitrary can be effective.

Dec 2002

For the most part, I agree that Polletta is definitely overrated. Sure, she is a very dynamic person and really tries to make lectures exciting but I still dreaded this class each and every time. Theories were hardly given any analysis; instead, she let all the cocky freshmen babble on and on and on. While I understand that it is an intro class and the material shouldn't get too dense, this does not make up for the fact that the class taught me nothing. Frankly I don't even know why this class is required for sociology majors--Classical Social Theory covers everything you need to know and then some. Sociological Imagination is an embarrassment. As a sociology major I feel insulted that I have to sit through such elementary subject matter and Polletta doesn't make things better by handholding all the whiney crybabies in the class. Why do we have to get into groups? Why does she field us the same exact discussion questions for every reading? One thing I will say though is that I really enjoyed the readings for what they were worth. They were very interesting and not dense at all.

Dec 2002

Am I 3 years old? So why are you talking to me like I am? Oh, are you talking to the 20 people in the back row who are unabashedly reading the Spec? Sorry. Ok. Here's the deal. The readings are very dense, and she explains them thoroughly (or thoroughly enough for an intro level class), but then she delves off into the lame stuff that makes me embarrassed to be a soc major. For example, of course race theory is important, but do we have to go around the room and all name our ethnic identity? Or do we have to separate into groups in order to discuss a Michael Moore movie? Or do you have to keep calling on the loud-mouthed stooge in the back row? Ok, now I'm being overly harsh. Here's the deal. Don't listen to these other sycophant reviewers. I am a soc major, for Moses' sake. Polletta is nice, but not the best teacher in CC as the other reviewers seem to think. If you want the bomb soc professor, take Barkey's Historical Soc class. No major qualms, and above average, but no sociological god. If you want a sociological god, beg Tilly to tell you about the good old days of Sutherland and Merton.

Nov 2002

Though she (at first) came off as a bit intimidating, Professor Polletta is definitely "in this" for her students. She answers any question, and if someone is too shy to ask it in class (as there are about 70 people in there), you can email her and she respnds fully and quickly. Her lectures are usually dynamic, and the subject matter is interesting (some of the Durkheim stuff gets a bit dull). Awesome class overall.