Summarizing sociological theories in 140 characters or less

A sociology instructor is having his students tweet criminal-justice theories:

“They have all these theories to learn,” Atherton said. “Some of them are very dense, and complex. What I try to get them to do, and I tie some extra credit to it, is see if they can boil the theory down, the essence of it, to 140 characters.”…

In a recent class session, Atherton shared tweets from a lesson on a theory of social disorganization, displaying the tweets under Twitter’s signature bluebird.

“Social disorganization refers to communities as a whole not coming together for common goals, ultimately causing a disruption,” the first tweet stated.

Another tweet on the topic read: “theory suggests criminal activity comes from the neighborhood where someone lives and how it shapes them living there.”

If the American Sociological Association is working on a Wikipedia initiative, why not also start a Twitter push? Since it looks like Karl Marx’s Das Kapital is being tweeted (over 41,000 tweets and counting), there is work to be done.

While I think this could be an interesting pedagogical exercise as it allows students to use a current medium as well as put complex theories into their own terms, I wonder if this doesn’t perfectly illustrate the issues with Twitter. Sociological theories are often messy and complex, taking some time to explain and think through. For a very basic understanding, 140 characters could work but if this is all students know about sociological theories, is this worthwhile in the long run?

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