Poems, photos and song lyrics as sociology teaching resources

At the University of Leicester, in my undergraduate sociology module Ageing, Death and the Life Course, I try to make use of a range of teaching and learning materials. This includes poetry, lyrics and photographs. In the past, I have used campaign posters from charities like Save the Children, and Age Concern, and Shakespeare’s ‘Seven Ages of Man’. To preface a lecture on Death and Dying, I play the song End Credits by Chase and Status. This year I asked students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of key concepts and theories in the sociology of age and the life course through their analysis of either a poem, or a photograph.

The poem is A Crabbit Old Woman, thought to have been written by a woman who died at a geriatric hospital in Scotland in the 1960s. The photograph (which I can’t reproduce here) depicts four generations of adult women in the same family. Both poem and photo allow students to write about the three key ageing processes that are key to sociological perspectives (physiological ageing or the body, life course, and cohort), and both allow consideration of gender and age (Pilcher 1995). The poem is particuarly useful in terms of analysing old age as a stage of the life course.

I’d like to make more use of these kinds of resources because students respond well to them and it enhances their learning in ways that academic literature resources mostly don’t offer. For a while, I have wanted to use extracts from the film ‘Big’ starring Tom Hanks, to teach about the social construction of childhood and the importance of bodies in shaping age status and social identities – but I haven’t been able to source this properly.

I would welcome any suggestions for visual, poetry or film resources that I could use in my module on ageing, death and the life course; please email me at jlp3@le.ac.uk.

Pilcher, J. (1995) Age and Generation in Modern Britain, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

A useful resource for using visual images in sociology is available from the Open University.