Joseph J. Biernacki

Tennessee Tech University

Rural Sociology Course Syllabus

Tennessee Tech University

Rural Sociology – SOC 3720 (001)

Department of Sociology/Political Science

Special Topics in Chem Engineering: BioFuels and the Rural Socioecology – CHE 4973/6810/7970 (001)

Department of Chemical Engineering


Prerequisite: SOC 1010 or 1100 or consent of instructors.


Fall semester, 2014

Class meeting ~ Mondays 2:30 – 5:20

Classroom ~ Daniel Hall 205


Dr. Lachelle Norris, Professor/Sociology, Office: Matthews/Daniel Hall 258, Phone: 372-6220,

Dr. Joe Biernacki, Professor/Chem.Engineering, Prescott Hall 312, 372-3667,

Office Hours:

Norris: Monday through Thursday 10:00 am – 12 pm.

Biernacki: Monday and Thursday 1:00-2:00 pm


Course Description

This unique course provides a sociological overview of American rural society and the challenges facing rural communities today.  Special emphasis is placed on the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee and local attitudes toward emerging biomass technology.

Engineering students taking the course will also conduct a technoeconomic analysis of biomass pyrolysis to access measures of merit for the technology relative to other energy conversion strategies.


Course Objectives

  1. Increased understanding of rural society from social science perspective.
  2. Conduct research on regional attitudes and concerns toward pyrolysis.
  3. For engineering students – learn to apply engineering principles for making policy decision regarding energy topics.

Required Text Material

Berry, Wendell.  2009. Bringing It to the Table.  Counterpoint Press.  ISBN: 9781582435435

Flora, Cornelia Butler and Jan L. Flora.  2012.  Rural Communities: Legacy and Change. Westview Press. ISBN: 9780813345055

Course Requirements

  • For all students:
  • Reading of course material, discussion of material, and completion of weekly assignments.
  • Participation in research project. (travel will be required for this – you will be reimbursed for travel expenses)
    • You will be conducting some original primary research as part of a National Science Foundation grant.  Dr. Biernacki and his colleagues have been researching pyrolysis techniques.  It is important to understand how such technology will impact rural communities.  Our research project will involve interviewing farmers and other stakeholders in five counties (Clay, Fentress, Pickett, Van Buren and White counties) as to their attitudes, opinions, level of knowledge and concerns with such technology.  Students will work in teams and select one of the counties listed above.  Each team will then do the following:
      • Collect information and data about the county: demographic information and other important socio-economic data (per capita income, poverty rates, unemployment rates, etc.).  Most of this information is available from the US Census Bureau
      • Be responsible for organizing and leading a workshops on pyrolysis and follow up focus groups with relevant parties in that particular county.  Focus group sessions will be videotaped (Sociology Department has these for your team to check out – See Ms. Denise Henry (Room 309: Matthews/Daniel)
      • Combine all information in a final typed report.
      • For engineering students:
        • Conduct a technoeconomic analysis of biomass pyrolysis
        • Develop a news article on the subject of biomass pyrolysis to energy
        • For honors students:
          • Assist as peer team leaders/assistant coordinators of the student research project, in addition to work on a team.  Will work closely with each other to oversee the work of the other teams – being in essence liaisons.  Responsible for trouble shooting and coordinating/assembling the final report (to be comprised of the five team reports).
          • For independent study student:
            • Responsible for making contact with farmers/stakeholder and other interested persons in the five county area.  Assist in setting up workshops/focus groups for each county.

Course Evaluation

Course evaluation will be based on the following:

1. Your contribution to your team on the research project.  You will be evaluated by your teammates as well as the professors.

2. Completion of a number of small weekly projects for the final project report.

Each week you and your team will research and respond to various question/requests for secondary data related to your county (these are found in the schedule below).  Each week’s assigned readings should be completed first.  Then, with your teammates, address the issues for that week as they pertain to your own county, and submit a written summary of what you have found.  This much be turned in the week it is due for credit. This information will eventually be used for your final report.

3. Completion of final report on your county which includes the secondary data and the primary data from the workshop/focus groups (one report per team).

4. Your attendance and participation in two hour class meeting and in the one additional hour TBD.  All students will meet from approximately 2:30 – 4:20 on Mondays.  In additional, students will meet by discipline later in the week for one additional hour.

In addition for engineering students:

  • BS-level (4973) students will participate in the technoeconomic analysis and will help to assemble the final technical report,
  • MS-level (6810) students will, in addition, write a news article on the subject of biomass pyrolysis,
  • PhD-level (7970) students will, in addition, develop a mathematical model for the technoeconomic analysis.  This model may include use of various software including HYSYS.

Various Class Policies

1. Please arrive to class on time.

2. Professional behavior is expected at all times.

3. University Plagiarism Policy (Tennessee Tech University Student Handbook – Plagiarism (Academic Regulations)): When you use (for example, quote or even summarize or paraphrase) someone else’s media, words, data, ideas, or other works, you must cite your source. You should be especially careful to avoid plagiarizing Internet sources (for example, e-mail, chat rooms, Web sites, or discussion groups). It does not matter whether you borrow material from print sources, from the Internet, from on-line data bases, or from interviews. Failure to cite your source is plagiarism. Students who plagiarize may receive an “F” or a “0” for the assignment, or an “F” for the course.

Academic honesty is expected of all students in their participation of this course.  Any form of academic dishonesty (faking of project work, plagiarism, misrepresenting your contribution to the research project, etc) will result in your receiving no credit for the work.  Do NOT copy work from another source and make no attempt to give credit to that source.  Cutting and pasting will get you nowhere and could result in your failing the course.  This is serious stuff and we have a zero tolerance policy.   In all cases, you may be turned over to academic misconduct if the offense is serious enough.

4. Attendance: According to your undergraduate catalogue: “Regular class attendance is a definite part of the total performance required for the satisfactory completion of any course, and an unsatisfactory attendance record may adversely affect the final grade recorded for the course. When, in the opinion of the instructor, the attendance record of a student becomes unsatisfactory, the Office of the Registrar and the Financial Aid Office will be notified.

Unsatisfactory class attendance may result in the student’s being dropped from a course with a grade of “F.” A student who is unable to return to classes due to an emergency or serious accident should notify the Office of Student Affairs.”

If something happens to prevent you from attending class, don’t just disappear.  Please let us know what has happened.  You will want to officially withdraw from the class before the withdrawal deadline.  This will prevent you from receiving and “F.”

5. Disability Accommodation: Students with a disability requiring accommodations should contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS). An Accommodation Request (AR) should be completed as soon as possible, preferably by the end of the first week of the course. The ODS is located in the Roaden University Center, Room 112; phone 372-6119.

6. Kids/Visitors in Class: We realize that there are times when it is necessary to either bring children to class with you or miss class.  This usually doesn’t present a problem as long as children are not disruptive or sick enough to be contagious.  We will be traveling off campus, so be aware that neither Dr. Biernacki, Dr. Norris, nor TTU can be held responsible should something happen to you, kids/others either on or off campus.  You’ll be asked to sign a liability waiver in regard to any trips off campus we might take.  (attached to this syllabus)

7. Inclement Weather:  Tech rarely closes for weather related reasons but use good judgment – do not risk your life.  We will make every attempt to email you early if we cannot make it to class, so check your email before starting out if there’s any doubt.  We will not be in class in the event of a tornado warning.  Find a safety zone.  That would be under the stairwells on the first floor or in the basement if you are in Matthews/Daniel Hall.


Tentative Schedule and Assignments (subject to change as necessary)


(information below on Community Capitals Framework the various forms of capital has been taken from Rural Communities: Legacy and Change and from the authors’ University of Iowa website on Community Capital Framework [])


The following websites will be helpful in addressing the weekly questions below.  You may use other sources, but be sure to cite your source.  At times it might be appropriate to contact the appropriate authority in your county.


Any off campus trips will be announced in class or via email.


Week 1: August 25

  • Introduction to this course and instructors; brief discussion of sociology and pyrolysis
  • Organization of teams and selection of counties; Human Subjects work for IRB (time permitting)
  • Read Chapter 1 (Flora and Flora) “Community Capitals and the Rural Landscape”)
    • This book is uses the concept of “capital” in examining and analyzing rural communities.  According to their website: “Cornelia and Jan Flora (2008) developed the Community Capitals Framework as an approach to analyze how communities work. Based on their research to uncover characteristics of entrepreneurial and sustainable communities, they found that the communities most successful in supporting healthy sustainable community and economic development paid attention to all seven types of capital: natural, cultural, human, social, political, financial and built. In addition to identifying the capitals and the role each plays in community economic development, this approach also focuses on the interaction among these seven capitals as well as how investments in one capital can build assets in others”  We will be examining the various forms of capital in the next few weeks as well as how they are interrelated.  Assignments for your county research work will be related in part to these forms of capital.

Week 2: No Class – Labor Day

Week 3: September 8

  • Read Chapter 2 (Flora and Flora) “Natural Capital”
    • Natural capital involves resources of a particular area, such as air, water, soil, biodiversity and weather.  Those assets that abide in a location, including resources, amenities and natural beauty.
      • Questions to have addressed by tonight:
        • Provide a very brief history of your county.
        • What natural resources are found in your county?
        • Are there any water related issues?
        • What is the history of land use in this county?  How is that different from today?  Who owns the land today (private, corporate, state)? Any parks or natural recreational areas?
        • What percentage of your county is used for farming? What percentage is rural? Urban?
        • Are there any particular environmental concerns that you can determine?  Issues of biodiversity?  Invasive plant/animal species?

Week 4: September 15

  • Read Chapter 3 (Flora and Flora) “Cultural Capital and Legacy”
    • Cultural capital pertains to the world views, philosophies, values and beliefs held by residents in the community. Reflects the way people “know the world” and how to act within it. Cultural capital includes the dynamics of who we know and feel comfortable with, what heritages are valued, collaboration across races, ethnicities, and generations, etc. Cultural capital influences what voices are heard and listened to, which voices have influence in what areas, and how creativity, innovation, and influence emerge and are nurtured. Cultural capital might include ethnic festivals, multi-lingual populations or a strong work ethic. 
      • Questions to have addressed by tonight:
        • What information can you find that might be indications of residents’ world views, values, etc.?  What can you find out about political leanings?  Religious orientations?
        • What are the ethnic and racial demographics of your area?  Any indications of festivals or ethnic celebrations?
        • What heritage appears to be celebrated in your county?  Any traditions or voices not being heard?
        • What determination about social class can you make about your county?

Week 5: September 22

  • Read Chapter 4 (Flora and Flora) “Human Capital”
    • Human capital can be comprised of the amount of education and/or skills held by residents.  The skills and abilities of people, as well as the ability to access outside resources and bodies of knowledge in order to increase understanding and to identify promising practices. Human capital also addresses leadership’s ability to “lead across differences,” to focus on assets, to be inclusive and participatory, and to be proactive in shaping the future of the community or group.
      • Questions to have addressed by tonight:
        • Education Issues:
          • What census data can you find on level of education attained for residents of your county?
          • What programs are available to assist residents in gaining education and/or skills?
          • Health of Residents:
            • What can you find out about the state of physical/mental health of residents?
            • Economy:
              • Describe the labor force.  What do people do for a living?  What jobs are available?  Who provides the jobs?  Who are the major employers?  What types of jobs are they?  How has this changed (if it has)?
          • What is the poverty rate, per capita income, percentage of people under the poverty level (particularly single women?).  What is the median income?  What other economic indicators can you find?
  • What else can we find out about the economy?  What are the major issues economically today?  Problems associated with the economy?

Week 6: September 29

  • Read Chapter 5 (Flora and Flora) “Social Capital and Community”
    • Social capital involves the interaction of residents in the community.  Reflects the connections among people and organizations or the social glue to make things happen.  Social capital may be “bonding” (referring to those close ties that build community cohesion) or “bridging” (involves weak ties that create and maintain bridges among organizations and communities). How connected residents to family, friends, neighbors and civic institutions on a local and national level?
      • Questions to have addressed by tonight:
        • What types of community organizations are available for residents?  What are the other ways in which residents might interact with one another?
        • Review Figure 5.2, pg. 128 in Flora and Flora.  Based on the typologies of social capital presented here, which would best describe your county, based on what you have learned thus far?

Week 7: October 6

  • Read Chapter 6 (Flora and Flora) “Political Capital”
    • Political capital pertains to how norms and values become norms and eventually laws.  The ability to influence standards, rules, regulations and their enforcement. It reflects access to power and power brokers, such as access to a local office of a member of Congress, access to local, county, state, or tribal government officials, or leverage with a regional company.
      • Questions to have addressed by tonight:
        • Who are the movers and shakers?  How has the power?  Why?  Who makes decisions in this area?  Any indication of problems, complaints, conflict with this power structure?
        • How is the government structured?  What part (if any) do economics play in the politics of the area?
        • Pluralism or Elitism? Which best describes the power structure in your county, based on what you’ve learned?
        • Any evidence of “smart growth?” (pg. 159 – Flora and Flora)

Week 8: October 13 – No Class – Fall Break.  Before October 20, make plans to visit your county (if you haven’t already).  Drive around the area and describe what you find.  Write a brief account of your observations.

Week 9: October 20

  • Read Chapter 7 (Flora and Flora) “Financial Capital”
    • Financial capital is determined by income and savings.  The financial resources available to invest in community capacity building, to underwrite businesses development, to support civic and social entrepreneurship, and to accumulate wealth for future community development.
      • Questions to have addressed by tonight:
        • Based on what you are able to find, how would you characterize the financial fitness of this area? In what ways (sources) does the community gain access to financial capital?
        • Local and county budgets?  Do there appear to be issues with money and tax bases in funding needed projects for the community?  For fostering small businesses?  For community development?

Week 10: October 27

  • Read Chapter 8 (Flora and Flora) “Built Capital”
    • Built capital pertains to human constructed infrastructure. The infrastructure that supports the community, such as telecommunications (telephone/internet), industrial parks, mainstreets, water and sewer systems, waste management systems, roads/transportation, etc. Built capital is often a focus of community development efforts.
      • Questions to address for tonight:
        • Describe these types of built capital for your county.  Are there projects currently ongoing?  What are the main issues/needs in regard to infrastructure for your county?

Week 11: November 3

Week 12: November 10

  • Read Part 1 (Berry) Pages 57 – 101

Week 13: November 17

  • Read Part 2 (Berry) Pages 139 – 181

Week 14: November 24

  • Read Part 3 (Berry) Pages 185 – 210

Week 15: December 1

  • Wrap up and assessment


A Bit of Information on Case Studies of Rural Communities

A case study is defined as an examination of a single individual, group, or society.  Its chief purpose is description, although attempts at explanation are also acceptable.  In other words, you will be finding out all you can about your selected county by using primary (interviews and focus groups) and secondary (information someone else has collected prior) data.  Below are the basic components we will be researching:

  • What is the brief history of this county?  How would you describe the county, in general, today? How can you describe those towns, communities?
  • What are the natural resources in the county?  How has land been traditionally used and how does that differ today? (natural capital)
  • Population demographics: what are the towns, communities of your county?  What are the demographics of those areas (population size/race-ethnicity/age distribution/other population characteristics, etc.)? (human capital)
  • What about the economics of the area?  What do people do for a living?  What jobs are available?  Who provides the jobs?  Who are the major employers?  What types of jobs are they?  How has this changed (if it has) in the recent past?  What is the poverty rate, per capita income, percentage of people under the poverty level (particularly single women?), what is the median income?  What can we find out about the economy?(financial capital)
  • The politics of the area: who are the movers and shakers?  How has the power?  Why?  Who makes decisions in this area?  How is the government structured?  What part (if any) do economics play in the politics of the area? (political capital)
  • What about education?  How much school has been completed by residents (completion of high school? College?)?  What can you find out about education in this area?  How do people feel about education in the area?  What are the aspirations of residents in the area? (human capital)
  • What are the basic means by which people interact in your county?  What organizations exist in the county – are they important for interaction?  (social capital) –
  • What social services are available in the area?  Who is served?  What is needed?
  • What are the social problems in the area?  Why are they social problems?  Who is defining these problems as such?  Who benefits?  Who suffers?  What are the main issues of concern for people in your area?  What do they see as important issues of concern?  What would they like to see done to make their community better (are they concerned?  Who is concerned?  What is currently being done?)
  • How would you describe the infrastructure?  What needs to be done?
  • Based on your workshops and focus groups, what are the thoughts, feelings, concerns, etc of residents toward technology, pyrolysis in particular?  How is this cultural capital   connected to or interrelated with the other information you have found?




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