Program Dates, Times & Details
Session II: August 3-28, 2020
Duration: 4 weeks
Live (Synchronous) Session Times: Thursdays; 6:30 – 8 p.m. EST
Course Number: 72733
Science fiction is a unique genre that allows people to examine thorny social problems and issues in a relatively unique way by framing them in possible futures. One of the most enduring franchises in sci fi is Star Trek. From the ground breaking original series, to the just released Picard, Star Trek has captured the imagination and inquiry of several generations through an entertaining and evocative examination of structural social problems.
Using a sociological approach, this class will utilize key sociological theories from readings and selected episodes from various Star Trek series to discuss social problems in the context of Star Trek and how it sheds light on today’s seemingly intractable social problems. Note that our lens is a sociological one, where we look at societal and even imperial structures and histories to examine how they influence choices made in those societies by governments, economic systems, and expected cultural norms and roles. Using Star Trek to discuss philosophical or moral questions is a common enough forum. Instead, we will look further in order to examine the impact of these structures on characters and their milieux.
Familiarity with the Star Trek franchise is necessary for this course. However, you do not need to feel like an expert in Star Trek cannon in order to participate. You may enjoy one series and dislike others. Or you may have seen every single series and movie and be able to describe how they all intertwine. We welcome everyone. In order to do this, I ask you to be respectful, polite, willing to listen to others, and see this as an opportunity to learn with and from others in the Star Trek community. This class has a goal to use a sociological lens, not to be a contest in who knows the most minutiae.
- To prepare for class discussion, short readings from sociological pieces are posted on Blackboard for you to read. Readings are excerpts to help you use the sociological terms and theories. A short companion guide will also be included that describes the purpose of the reading and how it fits with the topic.
- To apply the readings to examples before class discussion, you will watch a 1-2 selected episodes from the Star Trek canon.
- To prepare for class, you will be asked to contribute a few written comments in a Blackboard forum. This can be as involved as you wish, only a few phrases or several paragraphs.
- Once a week, we will meet online using Zoom. First will be a short lecture on the sociological material and an application to one of the episodes we watched as an example. Then, we get to discuss sociological material, how we see it exhibited in Star Trek and parallels to contemporary society, and what we think about the issue of the week.
Week 1: Scientism. We shape it and it shapes us. How does this relationship work in Star Trek? How does it reflect on our understanding of real world issues?
Week 2: Freedom and Control. Where is the line? How much freedom is necessary for a society to function or function well? Does control create a utopia or dystopia? Who gets to decide, the majority or those on the margins?
Week 3: Colonialism. Where is the line between belonging to a proud nation and subjugation to an imperial master? Is the need for resources and expansion important? What kind of impact can colonialism have on identity or purpose? Is there a limit to what forms resistance should take?
Week 4: Body Image and Usage. Is the body we inhabit ours? How much control do we, or should we, have over it? What makes a body a recognized or purposeful one?
Program & Technology Requirements
- Reliable internet access
- Minimally, a laptop with webcam and audio. (Best would be a monitor connected to laptop or desktop)
- Access to different Star Trek series. A number of series are on Netflix or Amazon Prime. We will be using selected episodes to discuss the weekly topics.
- There is no textbook. However, there will be short excerpts from sociological readings to help create a necessary foundational knowledge for our group to base our discussions. All readings will be posted ahead of time on Blackboard, the online management learning system.
Selene Cammer-Bechtold is finishing up her PhD in sociology with a focus on education reform and inequality in education. She has presented her research at national and regional conferences and has taught Sociology of Education, Methods of Social Research, Social Problems, Critical Issues for the United States, and Intro to Sociology to a diverse range of learners from high school distance learners to seniors finishing their major in the discipline. She is a life long sci fi buff and is thrilled to finally get a chance to do a class on one of her favorite franchises, Star Trek.