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Sociology 101 Assignment Stretched To Incorporate '70s Punk Rock

COLUMBIA, MO—A Sociology 101 paper on the theories of 19th-century French sociologist Émile Durkheim was stretched to incorporate the 1970s British punk-rock scene, sources close to the paper's author, University of Missouri freshman Justin Hoyer, reported Monday.

Hoyer works on his paper at the campus computing center.

"Justin does this all the time," roommate Andy Avallone said. "Any assignment he gets, he finds a way to turn it into a discussion of whatever he's into at the time. Snowboarding, old black-and-white horror movies, The Simpsons, the legalization of marijuana—you name it, he's fit it into a paper."

In his latest paper, "No Future: U.K. Punk And The Philosophy Of Émile Durkheim," Hoyer drew heavily upon his knowledge of the music.

"The professor said we could pick any sociologist we wanted and explain how their theories related to the problems that came with the emergence of postindustrial society," Hoyer said. "Well, when I heard 'postindustrial,' right away I thought of '70s punk."

The first page of Hoyer's paper contains a synopsis of Durkheim's theory that the collective mind of society is the source of religion and morality. But by the middle of page two—which begins with a discussion of Durkheim's theory that division of labor in complex societies erodes commonly held values and leads to social instability and disorientation of the individual—the paper shifts its focus to the politically charged songs of U.K. punk band Stiff Little Fingers.

"All that stuff Durkheim said about disorientation, that's exactly what the punk scene grew out of," Hoyer said. "It was a new generation of working-class British youth reacting to a society that was conservative and totally irrelevant in, like, so many ways. Punk had its own set of morals and values which grew out of a desire to form an alternate society. It's all in the paper."

Hoyer said he was pleased with the way the nine-page assignment turned out.

"It was pretty heavy on punk, but I figure the prof already knows all about sociology," Hoyer said. "Professors want to see how you apply the coursework to other things. That shows you have a true understanding of the material and aren't just blindly spitting back the stuff you heard in class."

While Hoyer did not use any works by Durkheim as source material, his bibliography included Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces: A Secret History Of The 20th Century, Jon Savage's England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock And Beyond, and the Legs McNeil-edited Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk.

Reasoning that professors "get off on supplemental material," Hoyer also included an appendix of photocopied lyrics from the landmark album Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols, several of whose songs were dissected verse by verse in the body of the paper.

"It took a long time to write, but I wanted to hand in something really good," Hoyer said. "This paper's got it all: Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Gang Of Four, The Adverts, The Damned, XTC, Elvis Costello, X-Ray Spex, and The Jam."

In the last five pages of the paper, Durkheim is mentioned only three times—five less than Malcolm McLaren.

"While Justin's paper failed to include the basic fact that Durkheim pioneered the use of empirical evidence and statistical material in the study of society, it did a more than adequate job reassessing Siouxsie Sioux's oft-overlooked contributions to the development of the DIY aesthetic," said Craig Basile, Hoyer's Sociology 101 teaching assistant. "If only the professor had assigned the class a paper on punk rock and encouraged them to add a few thoughts on modern sociology, this would have been stellar."

Basile, who has not yet decided on a grade for Hoyer's paper, said he encourages "thinking beyond the textbook" and has no problem with students expanding an assignment to incorporate non-traditional subjects like punk rock. He noted, however, that he "would ideally like to see at least a 50/50 ratio."

"Look here on page 6. This long section on the anti-societal statements punks made by wearing torn clothing and dyed hair is an obvious place to work in something about Durkheim's distinction between societies maintaining mechanical versus organic solidarity," Basile said. "But instead, he just keeps hammering home the same point about Malcolm McClaren's 'Sex' shop."

In Hoyer's defense, Basile acknowledged that his paper was better than most of the 200 or so rock-related papers he has received during his three years as a T.A.

"Justin's paper was, by and large, poorly argued nonsense with only the most tenuous connection to the course material," Basile said. "But at least he got it in on time with few spelling errors, and he did it in 12-point type with just one-inch margins. That's more than I can say for a lot of other papers. I'll probably give it a B-minus."

Though only in his second semester, Hoyer has already veered sharply from an assigned paper topic on numerous occasions. Last month, he presented his Geography 140 discussion section with a speech about his family's March 2000 trip to France. And last October, in a Political Science 160 essay exam, Hoyer illustrated the inability of states to adequately police themselves during the Articles of Confederation era with examples from Bad Lieutenant.

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