Sociology degree students to study 'The Wire'

It inspires devotion in its fans, is hailed as addictive viewing - and now television drama The Wire is to become the subject of a British university course.

The American cop show will be studied at the University of York from this autumn as part of its sociology degree.

The 10-week module, thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, will be offered to all final year students.

Titled The Wire as Social Science Fiction?, it will use the HBO series to look at topics including class, race, political process and the city.

The lecturer behind the course believes the popular show could challenge traditional methods of teaching and presenting social science.

Professor Roger Burrows, head of sociology at the university, said: "We look at The Wire as a form of entertainment that does the job some of the social sciences have been failing to do.

"It's a contrast to dry, dull, hugely expensive studies that people carry out on the same issues.

"We spend an enormous amount of our time trying to craft books and articles that are read by so few people and it could challenge how we represent the work that we do in the academe.

"I find it odd that we're still using 19th and 20th century forms as a way of disseminating what we do."

In a multimedia age, he added, students find it increasingly difficult to concentrate on a lecturer "standing up and talking in front of a power point presentation."

He said: "It's easier to get students to use The Wire as a way of looking at the current political system than it is to get them to read a dull book on it."

But the 24 students who have already signed up for the course will still have their work cut out for them - they will need to have watched all 60 one-hour episodes beforehand.

And the programme will just be a "point of departure", Prof Burrows added.

"I find that students, and people in general, are more willing to work their way through difficult stuff if they've already become interested in the issues by watching The Wire," he said.

"After watching the show, people are keen to discuss things they weren't previously interested in discussing.

"The show was doing a better job than we were in interesting people in the profound problems of urbanism."

Set in Baltimore, The Wire follows the fortunes of the American city's drugs dealers and the police officers trying to battle against them.

It counts US President Barack Obama among its fans and has already become the subject of academic study in the States, where Harvard University has been running a course on it.

In Britain, academics and others gathered at Leeds Town Hall for a conference on the TV show in November.

Prof Burrows denied that teaching it in university seminars amounted to "dumbing down."

He said: "If it was just sitting down and watching TV programmes there wouldn't be much excuse for it.

"But what we're trying to do is use a TV programme alongside other material if it's something that will induce enthusiasm in our students.

"A programme like The Wire makes a fantastic contribution to their understanding of contemporary urbanism."

He cited American TV shows The Sopranos, The West Wing and Mad Men as others that could be used for academic study.

But one academic who spoke at the Leeds conference on The Wire warned that TV dramas do not necessarily give students a direct insight into social issues.

Professor Griselda Pollock, director of the Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory and History at the University of Leeds, said: "It's not raw material. There's a risk of seeing it as giving unmediated access to some of the social issues.

"It's an innovative idea to show sociology students that television can give them an insight, but we must also take into account that it's not transparent, it's constructed.

"We can't just look at the TV programme and think by studying it we know what's happening in Baltimore."

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