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Contemporary Sociology Theory Class Visits Eastern State Penitentiary

Drexel SOC 356 students at ESP; Photo credit: Kelly Underman
SOC 356 students at ESP (Photo Credit: Kelly Underman, PhD)


January 31, 2020

Eastern State Penitentiary Photo Credit: Khalil McFarlane
Eastern State Penitentiary (Photo Credit: Khalil McFarlane)

In November, Kelly Underman, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, took her students in SOC 356 Contemporary Sociology Theory, to Eastern State Penitentiary. The field trip was intended to set the stage for the course unit on sociological theories of “Power,” beginning with the work of philosopher Michel Foucault.

Eastern State Penitentiary is built on a model called the Panopticon, which uses a central guard tower to watch over many prisoners at once. This concept features prominently in Foucault’s writings on the nature of contemporary power, and the field trip provided an excellent opportunity for students to discuss the course materials while also experiencing them by walking around the prison.

To prepare, students read “The Eye of Power,” an interview with Foucault about how he used the Panopticon in his theory. Students walked around the prison and discussed what they’d read, as well as how the ideas apply to sociological concepts like power, institutions and socialization. Students enjoyed the field trip and found it educational.