Skip to main content


Sociology 326.6, Spring 2005
Professor Charles Kurzman
Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Updated February 21, 2005.

Class Sessions:

Twice a month, times to be arranged randomly at the last minute.

Office Hours:

227 Hamilton Hall, by appointment (919-962-1241,

Course Goals:

1) To acquaint students with social science research on celebrity.
2) To introduce students to major trends in the study of social status.
3) To develop a jointly written paper on celebrity as a contemporary form of social status.
4) Not to overburden the students or instructor, since this is only a 1-credit course.

Course Description:

This course will examine whether celebrities constitute a status group in the sense described by Max Weber. It may be that celebrities usurp honor, command authority, engage in a distinctive lifestyle, and pass along their status (sometimes in diminished form) to their children, just like the aristocratic elites whom Weber analyzed a century ago. At the same time, celebrity may be unlike Weberian status in other ways. The goal of the course is to write a jointly authored paper for publication on this topic.

Readings will include “Class, Status, Party” and other selections from Economy and Society by Max Weber; more recent works on status hierarchies, including Distinction by Pierre Bourdieu, The Celebration of Heroes by William J. Goode, and Social Closure by Raymond Murphy; and social-scientific analyses of celebrity, including coverage of the history of celebrity, the scale of the phenomenon, its linkages with economic, legal, and/or political power, its enactment in micro-interactions, and its implications for social theory.

Assignments will include attendance at twice-monthly class sessions; research adding to the following starter list of readings; reading notes on overlapping portions of the reading list (each reading will be read by at least two students); and writing one portion of the jointly authored paper.

Course Requirements:

1. Attendance and Participation (10% of final grade). Class will meet every other week for two hours.
2. Assigned Reading (not graded directly).
3. Reading Notes, due 24 hours before each class (30% of final grade). Please submit these via e-mail to the course list-serve — copying and pasting the notes into the text of the message, not sending them as an attachment. These notes, approximately 250 words per article or chapter, should include:

(a) the full bibliographic citation of the work
(b) the main points of the reading, including summaries of each chapter or section
(c) definitions of major concepts and examples of their use in the text
(d) significant quotations and items that you find interesting
(e) answers to the “big questions” identified at the start of the course
(f) your reactions/questions/critiques/linkages with other theorists/etc. (these analytical notes should be set aside from the descriptive notes via brackets).
(g) page references throughout; these notes will serve as your customized index to the reading. The notes will be graded 2 points each if complete and turned in on time, 1 point if incomplete or one class late, and 0.5 points if more than one class late.

4. An undergraduate syllabus on the sociology of celebrity or on social status (your choice), annotated with explanations for your choice of readings and themes., due April 30, 2005  (15% of final grade).
5. One component of the jointly-written paper on celebrity status. (45% of final grade).

Class meetings:

1. Friday, January 14, 2005, 10 a.m.: Planning.
No readings.

2. Friday, January 28, 2005, 10 a.m.: Weber.
1. Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party.” (pp. 180-195), in From Max Weber, edited by Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1958).
2. Max Weber, Economy and Society, edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978, Vol. 1, pp. 225-226 (bureaucracy’s leveling effect), 264-265 (education and status group formation), 305-307 (definition of status group), 390-391 (ethnic groups); Vol. 2, pp. 695-698 (legal communities), 932-938 (from “Class, Status, Party”), 959-963 (officials’ status), 967-968 (status vs. coercion), 975 (bureaucracy’s leveling effect), 1068-1069 (patrimonialism and honor), 1149 (discipline of ruling status groups), 1239-1240 (medieval Europe), 1354-1359 (ancient and medieval). (From index, Vol. 2, p. lx.)

3. Thursday, February 7, 2005, 4 p.m.: Status since Weber.
1. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction, translated by Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).
or 2. William J. Goode, The Celebration of Heroes: Prestige as a Social Control System (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978).
or 3. Raymond Murphy, Social Closure: The Theory of Monopolization and Exclusion (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988).

4. Monday, February 21, 2005, 4 p.m.: More status since Weber.
1. Recent articles and books to be contributed by students.

5. Thursday, March 10, 2005, 2 p.m.: Definitions, History, and Theory of Celebrity.
1. Gertrud Koch, “From Kingdom To Stardom.” Constellations 6:206-215, 1999.
2. C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite.  New York, NY: Oxford University Press, [1956] 2000.. Chapters 1, 4, 15.
3. Chris Rojek, Celebrity. London, UK: Reaktion Books, 2001.
4. Thomas Spence
Smith, “Aestheticism and Social Structure: Style and Social Network in the Dandy Life.” American Sociological Review 39:725-743, 1974.
5. Steven Stack, “Celebrities and Suicide:  A Taxonomy and Analysis, 1948-1983.” American Sociological Review 52:401-412, 1987.
6.Bonnie H. Erikson and T. A. Nosanchuk, “The Allocation of Esteem and Disesteem: A Test of Goode’s Theory.” American Sociological Review 49:648-658,1984.
7. Joshua Gamson, Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994.
8. Joshua Gamson, “The Web of Celebrity.” The American Prospect 11(20):40-1, 2000.
9. Todd Gitlin,
“The Culture of Celebrity.” Dissent 45:81-3, 1998.
10. David P. Marshall, Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
11. PF Parnaby and VF Sacco, “Fame and Strain: The Contributions of Mertonian Deviance Theory to an Understanding of the Relationship Between Celebrity and Deviant Behavior.” Deviant Behavior 25:1-26, 2004.
12. Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies, 2nd ed. (London, UK: Routledge, 2003).
13. Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown: Fame & its History (New York : Oxford University Press, 1986).
14. Richard Schickel, Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity in America (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985)
More to be contributed by students.

6. Monday, March 21, 2005, 4 p.m.:  Celebrity’s Interpersonal Privileges; Celebrity’s Normative Privileges
1. Kerry O. Ferris, “Seeing and Being Seen: The Moral Order of Celebrity Sightings.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 33:236-264, 2004.
2. JL Knight, TA Giuliano, MG Sanchez-Ross, “Famous or Infamous? The Influence of Celebrity Status and Race on Perceptions of Responsibility for Rape.” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 23(3):183-190, 2001.
3. David S. Meyer and Joshua Gamson, “The Challenge of Cultural Elites: Celebrities and Social Movements.” Sociological Inquiry 65 (2): 181-206, 1995.
4. A. Raviv, D. Bar-Tal, A. Raviv, & A. Ben-Horin, “Adolescent Idolization of Pop Singers: Causes, Expressions, and Reliance.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 25:631-650, 1996.
More to be contributed by students.

7. Monday, April 4, 2005, 4 p.m.: Celebrity’s Economic Privileges; Celebrity’s Legal Privileges
1. David L. Andrews, Michael Jordan, Inc: Corporate Sport, Media Culture, and Late Modern America. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001.
2. SC Clay, “Starstruck: The Overextension of Celebrity Publicity Rights in State and Federal Courts.” Minnesota Law Review 79: 485-517, 1994.
3. Rosemary J. Coombe, “Publicity Rights and Political Aspiration: Mass Culture, Gender Identity, and Democracy.” New England Law Review 26:1221-1280, 1992.
4. Rosemary J. Coombe, The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship, Appropriation, and the Law. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.
5. Michael Madow, “Private Ownership of Public Image: Popular Culture and Publicity Rights.” California Law Review 81:125-240, 1993.
6. Brian D. Till and Terence A. Shimp, “Endorsers in Advertising: The Case of Negative Celebrity Information.” Journal of Advertising 27:67-82, 1998.
7. Darrell West and John Orman, Celebrity Politics. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2003.
More to be contributed by students.

8. Second half of April: Stitching Together Our Contributions.
1. Student contributions to our joint article.