Analogies are a useful teaching tool in sociology for a number of reasons:

  1. They can help students to understand something complex and unfamiliar by using ideas that are relatively simple and familiar.
  2. They can be used to engage students in collaborative work, the outcome of which is an expansion of their knowledge and understanding through the connections they are able to make.
  3. They encourage students to generate their own ideas, arguments and understanding in a relatively gentle and supportive context.
  4. The role of the teacher changes from simple didacticism to one of questioning, guidance, engagement and synthesis.

For these reasons analogies can be used as both collaborative classroom exercises and for flipped teaching (students prepare their work outside the classroom and enter the classroom prepared to discuss their understanding).

Theory and methods example:

If you need to develop a basic understanding of different types of society (pre-modern, modern and post/late modern) use the familiar device of different types of shop / shopping. Ask your students to think about the features that characterise the different types of shopping:

  • a corner shop (pre-modern society)
  • a supermarket / shopping mall (modern society)
  • shopping online (post/late modern society).

For example, a mall is much larger than a corner shop, it has more choice and involves different types of relationship between customer and staff.

Once they’ve discovered various differences you can then use this knowledge to specifically firm-up their understanding of different types of society and use this as the starting-point for further exploration / understanding.

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