SOC-167: Sociology of Virtual Communities and Social Media (Summer 2014)


SOC 167 is an elective undergraduate course in UC-Berkeley's Sociology Department, providing a wide overview to how classic concepts in the social sciences play out in social media and virtual communities. I was the instructor of record, responsible for designing the course syllabus, designing all assignments and exams, giving all lectures, and supervising one teaching assistant who helped with grading.

Syllabus for Sociology 167: Sociology of Social Media and Virtual Communities

UC-Berkeley, Summer 2014 Session I

Instructor: R. Stuart Geiger

Classroom: Wheeler 213

Office hours: 2-4pm Wednesdays, South Hall first floor atrium

Website: and as a backup,


Course reader: all readings available for download online via bCourses

GSI: Steven Lauterwasser (no office hours)

Final exam: In class, July 2nd

Course overview

Social media and virtual communities raise a number of important and relevant questions for contemporary societies. In this course, we will be exploring the role of media technologies and institutions in society as well as the role of media in the constitution of community across time and space. However, this course does not assume that social media and virtual communities are necessarily a contemporary, Internet-based phenomenon: from cave paintings to Snapchat and from the Royal Society to Wikipedia, all media are in some way social and all communities are in some way virtual. Furthermore, as Marshall McLuhan noted, 'new' media are rarely ever purely new; rather, they often serve as a new container for old media forms and practices. We will pay close attention to new and old media technologies, institutions, practices, norms, identities, social groups, discourses, ideologies, and publics.

Each new or old medium we will study is interesting and relevant in its own right, but we will also be using them as cases to help us explore a wide variety of issues about how societies operate. Is there something fundamentally and uniquely different about the role the Internet plays in contemporary societies? How did the postal service, the newspaper, and the telephone – which connected and continue to connect communities, countries, and continents – transform and disrupt social life then and now? What can we learn about the promises and perils of today's popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and reddit, which are being similarly praised and blamed for their impact on our societies today? What can we learn about identity, family, gender, religion, inequality, knowledge, work, power, agency, institutions, or other classic issues in sociology through studying new and old media forms?


In this course, you will not just study social media and virtual communities by reading academic texts about them. We will be actively using social media and participating in virtual communities in class and outside of class, and then reflecting on our experiences together. This participation will require using a computer with Internet access, and while you do not *need* to bring a laptop to class, it will be helpful. You will also need to purchase materials including paper, envelopes, postcards, and stamps, costing no more than $15 total. You do not need to have any previous experience with social media and virtual communities as they are typically defined (i.e. Internet-based social media sites).

As this is a summer session, we have to fit a full semester into just 6 weeks, so the average workload is much higher than a normal semester course. This is a four-unit course, and this course's workload assumes that for every hour of lecture, you will need to spend 1-2 hours outside of class reading, reflecting, using social media, and completing assignments. As this course meets for four hours at a time, each class will be split into four sections with a 10-minute break after the first and third hours, and a 20 minute break after the second hour. There will be a participation component for at least one of the four hours of every class, to break up the lectures.

If you need any particular accommodations to participate in this class, please contact me directly or through the DSP program (, and we will work out the necessary arrangements. Please notify me in writing by the second week about any extracurricular conflicts (such as religious observances, graduate or medical school interviews, or team activities).


In-class attendance and participation in activities: 15%

Attendance is mandatory for the entire 4 hours of class, twice a week. We have 45 hours of class throughout the semester, and you are allowed to miss 4 hours of class without this automatically affecting your participation grade. Since we will be doing many activities in class, missing these activities will also make it difficult to complete other assignments and exams.

Written reflections on social media use: 10% each * 4 (drop lowest reflection) = 30%

These reflections are 450-550 words each (the word limit is strict!) and are based on connecting your use of social media in class to the readings and theories from class. Due dates are listed in the syllabus. Specific prompts and direction will be given in class and on the bCourses website 1 week before each reflection is due.

In-class pop quizzes, based on the readings: 5% each * 5 (drop lowest quiz) = 20%

These will be mainly multiple choice or very short answer (a few phrases) and will test whether you have come to class having read the material. They will not require that you will have fully understood the theoretical lessons. If you miss class or come late, you will get a zero – there are no makeups. You will not know which days you will be quizzed.

Final exam: 35%

The final exam will be held the last day of class (July 2nd). It will be a mix of multiple choice, short answer, and one essay question. Questions will be drawn from the readings, the lectures, and reflections on your own social media use throughout this class.

** Grading scale:**

The grading scale is as follows:

A+ (97+] A (93-97) A- (90-93) B+ (87-90) B (83-87) B- (80-83)

C+ (77-80) C (73-77) C- (70-73) D+ (67-70) D (63-67) D- (60-63)

F (0-60)

I will use the Assignments tool on the course's bcourses website to communicate the scores on your assignments to you. This will provide a record of your progress throughout the term.

I do not accept incompletes or late assignments unless discussed with me before the deadline, or in cases of medical or family emergencies. I drop the lowest grade for both written assignments and pop quizzes to give everyone a free "no questions asked" accommodation – please use these carefully.

Academic integrity, plagiarism, cheating, and the honor code

this section is taken from the UC-Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning

Collaboration and Independence: Reviewing lecture and reading materials and studying for exams can be enjoyable and enriching things to do together with one's fellow students. We recommend this. However, homework and writing assignments should be completed independently and should be the result of one's own independent work.

Cheating: Quizzes and exams are closed book, closed note, closed device. Anyone caught cheating on a quiz or exam will receive a failing grade and will be reported to the University Office of Student Conduct. In order to guarantee that you are not suspected of cheating, please keep your eyes on your own materials and do not chat or text during the quizzes and exams.

Plagiarism/Self-plagiarism: You must be original in composing the writing assignments in this class. To copy text or ideas from another source (including your own previously, or concurrently, submitted course work) without appropriate reference is plagiarism and will result in a failing grade for your assignment and usually further disciplinary action. For additional information on plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and how to avoid it, see, for example:

Schedule of Lectures, Readings, and Assignments

May 28th: Introduction to the class

June 2nd: Media and Societal Change

Required reading:

Optional readings:


  • Building a collaborative Spotify playlist for songs about social media and virtual communities.

June 4th: Community Mediations / Mediated Communities (part 1)

Required reading:

Optional reading:


  • Postcrossing: an online community based on sending postcards to others. Bring 5 postcards, a pen/pencil, and five international postcard stamps (5 global forever stamps, or 5 * $1.15 in stamps)

June 6th: Social media reflection 1 due at 5pm

June 9th: Community Mediations / Mediated Communities (part 2)

Required reading:

Optional reading:

June 11th: Identity

Required reading:

Optional reading:

June 13th: Social media reflection 2 due at 5pm

June 16th: Inequality

Required Reading

Optional reading:


  • Exploring Pew Research Center surveys on technology use, then designing our own survey.

June 18th: Life

Required reading:

Optional reading:

June 20th: Social media reflection 2 due at 5pm

June 23rd: Practice and Record

Required reading:

Optional reading:


  • Galaxyzoo: participating in a citizen science project, helping scientists analyze data

    June 25rd: Place

Required reading:

  • Vertesi, Janet. 2008. "Mind the Gap: The London Underground Map and Users' Representations of Urban Space." Social Studies of Science 38(1). p. 7-33.

  • Kittler, Friedrich and Matthew Griffin. "The City is a Medium." New Literary History 27(4). p. 717-729

  • Cash, Johnny. 1968. "Send a Picture of Mother"

Optional reading:

  • Burrell, Jenna. "Youth and the Indeterminate Space of the Internet Cafe" In Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana. p 29-53.


  • Media in the city walking tour

June 27th: Social media reflection 3 due at 5pm

June 30th:** Trace and Code**

Required reading:


  • Review session for final exam

Optional reading:

July 2nd: In-class final exam