Academic Catalog


Foothill College Course Outline of Record

Foothill College Course Outline of Record
Heading Value
Units: 4
Hours: 4 lecture per week (48 total per quarter)
Degree & Credit Status: Degree-Applicable Credit Course
Foothill GE: Area VI: United States Cultures & Communities
Transferable: CSU/UC
Grade Type: Letter Grade (Request for Pass/No Pass)
Repeatability: Not Repeatable

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Students will identify the two main component parts or features of the sociological imagination.
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of why the sociological imagination is sociologically significant.
  • Students will identify the component parts of the scientific method.
  • Students will identify the leading components or indicators of methodology.


Theoretical and methodological overview of American popular culture. A critical examination of the socio-historical development and contemporary forms of popular culture in America. The relationship of popular culture to individual, group and mass identity formation. Analysis of popular culture and its racial and class dimensions.

Course Objectives

The student will be able to:
A. Summarize main terms and concepts of, and misconceptions about, the sociology of American popular culture and its racial, ethnic and class dimensions.
B. Identify and critically analyze historical and contemporary sites of American popular culture.
C. Describe the main factors contributing to the socio-historical development of popular culture.
D. Explain the relationship between popular culture, social institutions and the social (class, racial, ethnic and gender) structure of American society.
E. Explain the distinguishing characteristics of major theoretical approaches to popular culture and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.
F. Illustrate the main methods of sociological investigation of popular culture and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.
G. Apply theoretical and methodological models in critical analyses of popular culture.
H. Problematize popular culture and show it in relation to larger social processes and social inequality to do with race, ethnicity, gender and class.
I. Synthesize issues of race, class, gender, age, sexuality, crime and social change in relation to popular culture.
J. Analyze popular culture as both an instrument of social control and political resistance.

Course Content

A. Defining Popular Culture
1. Culture and its racial and class dimensions
a. Material culture
b. Non-material culture
c. Dominant culture
d. Sub-cultures
e. Counter cultures
2. Folk culture and its racial and class dimensions
3. Elite culture and its racial and class dimensions
4. Popular culture elements
a. Symbols
b. Language
c. Beliefs
d. Values
e. Norms
f. Rituals
g. Myths
h. Ideologies
i. Shared meaning
j. Learned
k. Taken for granted
l. Diversity
5. Meanings vary across time, space and place
6. As a field of dispute and an arena of power struggles
7. Cultural capital - the appropriation of culture as a way to maintain social status
8. Misconceptions about popular culture
a. It is simple
b. It is trivial
c. It is intellectually, morally, culturally and socially inferior
d. It is immediate, only dealing with what is popular at this moment
e. It is exclusionary
B. Selected Sites of Popular Culture
1. Popular literature
2. Mass media
a. Advertising
b. Newspapers
c. Magazines
d. Zines
3. Cyberculture
4. Popular art
5. Performance art
6. Electronic entertainment
a. Film
b. Television
c. Radio
d. Music
7. Everyday life
a. Shopping, fashion, style and taste
b. Fashion, clothing
c. Malls
d. Style
e. Taste
f. Leisure
8. Food and restaurants
a. Fast Food Nation
b. The McDonaldization thesis
c. Toys
d. Bar and social gathering behavior
e. Recreational drug use
f. Gambling
8. Sports and travel
a. Theme parks
9. Celebrities and fans
C. Main Factors in Socio-historical Development of Popular Culture
1. Social change that facilitated development of popular culture
a. Political changes
2. The rise of the contested public sphere
3. Public (State) and private control of popular culture
a. Processes of race and class exclusion/oppression
D. Economic Changes
1. Industrialization and urbanization
2. Assembly line work
3. Material excess
4. The continued development of capitalism
E. Spatial Changes
1. Increasing privatization of public space
2. Movement of popular forms of culture to new sites
F. Technological Changes
1. Inventions that facilitate development of new products
2. Production networks to reach consumers
G. Popular Culture, the Social Structure and American Social Institutions
1. The social structure
a. Statuses
b. Roles
c. Dominant and competing values
2. Popular culture, the social structure and social institutions
H. Overview of Theoretical Paradigms and Theories of Popular Culture
1. Functionalist
a. Socialization theory
b. Popular culture integrates people into society
c. It provides stability and group cohesion
d. Creates and sustains widely held beliefs and values
e. Strengths and weaknesses of
2. Symbolic Interactionist
a. Social exchange theory
b. Social constructionism
c. People trade symbols and through social interaction create meaning
d. Meaning systems shift and change
e. Strengths and weaknesses of
3. Conflict
a. Cultural studies
b. Marxist political economy
c. Ideology and hegemony - Gramsci
d. Popular culture reflects hierarchical power arrangements, coercion, competition, censorship and social control
e. Strengths and weaknesses of
4. Feminism
a. How is the status of women reflected in popular culture?
b. Strengths and weaknesses of
5. Post-modernism
a. People use discourses to create society
b. Society is a subjective experience embodied in popular culture images
c. Multiple experiences and interpretations
d. Strengths and weaknesses of
I. Overview of Main Methods of Inquiry in Popular Culture
1. Survey
2. Case study
3. Focus group
4. Ethnography
5. Content analysis
6. Textual and graphic chat space analysis
7. Ethnomethodology
8. Strengths and weaknesses of each
J. Production of Popular Culture
1. Who makes it?
a. Ownership
b. Class values of producers
2. How is it made?
a. Labor arrangements/sweatshop labor
b. Invisibility of labor processes used in production of popular culture products
c. Production, economic or technological constraints shape product
3. For whom is it made?
a. Commercial culture and reinforcement of consumption
4. Who is the audience or market?
a. Audience and market characteristics
5. Critical perspective
a. Who benefits from these arrangements?
b. Who suffers in these arrangements?
c. Who is centralized in the process?
d. Who is marginalized in the process?
K. Social Inequality and Popular Culture
1. Ideology
a. Representation social reality is produced through popular culture images (mediated images)
b. Common sense is produced and maintained by popular culture images
c. Popular culture images naturalized and de-politicized as "the way it is"
2. Race and ethnicity
a. Race, representation and the effects of representation for racially and culturally marginalized communities, particularly Native American, African American, Asian American and Chicano/Latino communities
b. Ethnic forms of popular culture
3. Social class and socio-economic status
4. Gender
a. Masculinity
b. Femininity
c. Gender tourism
d. Sexuality
5. Age
L. Social Issues and Popular Culture
1. Affluenza
2. Brands and branding
3. Culture lag
4. Crime and deviance
5. Mass production, commodification and consumption
6. Ethnocentrism
7. Globalization, cultural imperialism and colonization
8. Forms of resistance
a. Alternative media
b. Culture jamming and anti-advertisements
c. Media literacy
M. Popular Culture and Social Change
1. Popular cultural transformation
2. Diffusion of popular culture
3. Popular culture and innovation
a. Science and technology
4. Popular culture and cultural resistance
a. Political protest or revolution
b. Nationalism
c. Odentity politics
5. Popular culture and the future

Lab Content

Not applicable.

Special Facilities and/or Equipment

When taught as an online distance learning section, students and faculty need ongoing and continuous Internet and email access.

Method(s) of Evaluation

May include, but are not limited to:
A. Class discussions
B. Active learning exercises
C. Oral presentations
D. Critical essay(s)
E. Examinations or quizzes

Method(s) of Instruction

Lecture, Discussion, Oral presentations, Electronic discussions/chat.

Representative Text(s) and Other Materials

Berger, Arthur Asa. Ads, Fads and Consumer Culture: Advertising's Impact on American Character and Society. 5th ed. Maryland: Rowan and Littlefield Publishing, 2015.

Sternheimer, Karen. Connecting Popular Culture and Social Problems: Why Media is Not the Answer. 2nd ed. Colorado: Westview Publishing, 2013.

Kidd, Dustin. Pop Culture Freaks: Identity, Mass Media and Society. Colorado: Westview Publishing, 2014.

Duncombe, Stephen. Cultural Resistance Reader. New York: Verso Press, 2002. (This is the most recent edition of this book and it is current, relevant and topical.)

Tomasino, Anna. Discovering Popular Culture. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2007. (This is the most recent edition of this book and it is current, relevant and topical.)

Pomerance, Murray, and John Sakeris (eds). Popping Culture. 7th ed. New York: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2012. (This is the latest, most current, edition and is current, relevant and topical.)


Types and/or Examples of Required Reading, Writing, and Outside of Class Assignments

A. College level readings from primary and secondary sources.

B. College level writing assignments based on primary and secondary source reflection and/or analysis.