Sociologists study the intersection of private troubles and public concerns. We argue that participating in a vibrant public life is important to a free and democratic polity. But what is "the public"? Who belongs to it? And can public discussion and participation really affect social and political change? By examining the ways in which public life has changed from the Middle Ages to the present day, this course introduces the core theories, concepts, and approaches that form the basis of modern sociology. Students will explore the idea of America as "a nation of joiners," the sociology of a social gathering, the tensions inherent in the civilizing effects of modernity, the forces that exclude people from public life, and how we might innovate ways to make our publics--and our democracies--more inclusive. No prerequisite.