Sociology Course Descriptions

Sociology Course Descriptions

Courses

Note: Several courses satisfy one or more across-the-curriculum criteria; check the list of Course Offerings to determine the criteria met for any particular course.

SOCG 105: The Social World

An introduction to the nature and scope of sociology, emphasizing the development and uses of basic concepts, theories, and methods of inquiry. Emphasis varies by instructor.

Dr Crippen’s sections: Along with other social and behavioral scientists, sociologists strive to describe and explain human behavior in terms of scientific principles of inquiry. In its broadest sense, sociology is the scientific study of human social relationships, or of human societies. Thus, this course is organized as an introduction to the study of human societies from their most “primitive” hunter-gatherer forms to the rise and entrenchment of large-scale industrial societies. The principal goal of the course is to acquaint students with concepts, theories, and techniques that are useful for systematically analyzing human societies, emphasizing their stresses and tensions as well as their harmonious co-ordination.

In the first section of the course, we shall explore the question of why people co-operate. To co-operate means to be social, and it is a characteristic that humans share with several other classes of animals. In addressing this question, we will examine briefly the manner in which Western philosophers laid the foundation for the emergence of the modern social sciences, and we shall explore several more recently developed theoretical tools in the evolutionary behavioral sciences that enable us to grasp more effectively why humans, and other animals, behave socially. The second section of the course will focus on the nature of human social systems and on the mechanism involved in their development from their most “primitive” forager, or hunter-gatherer, forms to the rise and entrenchment of agrarian states and empires. With respect to the course of societal development, we shall be especially attentive to transformations in demography, social structure, and culture. The final section of the course will examine the state of affairs in historically more recent, industrial and industrializing human societies. The key focus will be on patterns of population growth and trends in the distribution of power and wealth within and between such societies.

Final grades for students are determined on the basis of their performance on three objective (primarily multiple-choice) examinations.

SOCG 155: Social Issues

Sociological perspectives for analyzing social problems such as economic inequality, race relations, and crime. Emphasis varies by instructor. Back to top.

SOCG 301: Evolution and Social Behavior

The principal goals of this course are to introduce students to crucial developments in the evolutionary behavioral sciences, to illustrate
how these theoretical tools have been applied with considerable success to the study of animal (including human) social behavior, and to urge students to recognize the significance of these developments for the discipline of sociology.

The course is organized by reference to two parts. First, we examine the tools of evolutionary theory that underlie the reorientation of  the social and behavioral sciences. Here we consider the development of evolutionary theory beginning with Darwin’s crucial insights that laid the foundations for the theories of natural selection and sexual selection. Next we take a look at how the rediscovery of the gene eventually led to the “Modern Synthesis,” i.e., the fusion of the modern science of genetics with Darwinian evolutionism. Finally, we shall see how these prior developments laid the groundwork for the emergence of what E.O. Wilson termed the “New Synthesis,” i.e., the application of evolutionary reasoning to the study of social behavior.

The second section of the course examines various strategies of social behavior from the standpoint of these evolutionary theoretical tools.  We consider, at minimum, forms of communication, patterns of aggression and dominance orders, mating preferences and mate selection, and parenting.
The course concludes with a re-emphasis on the diversity of social life across a range of animal species. Back to top.

SOCG 304: Social Stratification

This course investigates the nature of social inequality and social stratification in the United States. We will concentrate on how social class and the market economy affect inequality, but issues of race and gender are interwoven throughout the course. Students will gain an understanding of the current extent of inequality in various social institutions and organizations. By looking at the bases of inequality, students will also acquire an understanding of the differences between “popular” and sociological perspectives on economic, racial, and gender inequality, as well as on the role of the state in ameliorating and/or maintaining inequality. Perhaps most importantly, we will examine the possibilities for changing social inequality in the U.S. Back to top.

SOCG 313: Urban Sociology

This course examines the social, political and cultural dynamics of contemporary American cities from a sociological perspective. The emphasis in this course will be on the U.S. and examining changes in urban and suburban life.  We will study the history and emergence of American cities, examining different theories that attempt to explain their historical development. However, the primary emphasis will be on the “current scene,” with readings and discussion about the relationship between the urban condition and human social interactions exemplified in large metropolitan areas. How do people organize their relationships to each other in city spaces? How does city life–its social, political and economic structure–affect the social identity and everyday life patterns of city dwellers? We will consider questions of community and of urban policy, and we will keep an eye on questions of how inequality is structured and experienced in urban areas. We’ll focus each semester on a few current hot urban topics such as homelessness, Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, and the effects of the foreclosure crisis on urban areas.  I usually assign 4 to 5 books for this course and grade students on an extensive multi-part original research project conducted throughout the semester, classroom participation, and two take-home exams. Back to top.

SOCG 315: Gender and Society

In this course we will study the social construction of gender differences and gender inequality. The readings are designed to focus particular attention on the intersection of gender differences/inequalities with those based on social class, race/ethnicity, sexuality, and nation. We will examine how the power relations rooted in these intersecting hierarchies influence people’s life experiences. Back to top.

SOCG 320: Food Justice

Food is elemental. It is necessary for our very survival. Eating food is a biological drive. Food is also integral to our social relations. Beyond the basic survival drive, why do we eat what we do, when we do, and with whom we do? The society into which we are socialized largely shapes our taste preferences and structures our daily eating habits. As sociologists, we study these patterns with interest. We also extend our examination of food and society to encompass larger patterns of food production and distribution. We critically analyze how these practices of production and distribution create conditions of excess and scarcity for different social groups. We interrogate practices of the food industry that impact people’s access to and tendency to consume certain foods. We ask about the relationship between the food people eat and their health. We inquire as to the environmental impact of various cultural diets. We scrutinize the political dimensions of food production, distribution, and consumption.

This seminar is titled Food Justice. By choosing this title, I mean to insist that in exploring the multitude of questions related to food in society, we must also always do so with the intent to confront head-on problems of injustice. We study food in order to puzzle through the complicated questions of fairness, equity, justice, and all human beings’ inherent right to nourishment and sustenance. What would a ‘just’ food system look like? What social groups are advancing this cause in contemporary society? How successful have their efforts been? What can/will we do to contribute to this process? How will we adequately, healthily, and sustainably feed others and ourselves?

To this end, the readings in this course are designed to give us the necessary background information to tackle tough sociological questions about food and society that we face today.

SOCG 331: The Family

The family class typically begins by examining the historical development of contemporary family patterns. Students soon come to realize that most of the stereotypes people have about families of “the past” are quite inaccurate. The course considers the extent to which changes in socio-historical contexts – including today’s global economy – influence the nature of family life. Among the topics we will study are the processes of family formation, the problems of defining family, and the processes of family dissolution. The course considers the effects of economic inequality and social class on families, as well as the processes of power operating within families. Back
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SOCG 332: Introduction to Social Welfare

In this course we will examine the history and development of social welfare programs both in the U.S. and abroad. We will explore income assistance policies, health care policy, child welfare policy, and other policy areas as interest dictates. We will use sociological theories to explore whose interests drive policy development, expansion and contraction. We will try to never lose sight of the lived experiences of the various people dependent on these policies, and to reflect on how their interests are served or reflected in programmatic change. I typically assign 3 or 4 books, several short papers, and a longer research paper. Participation in class discussions is also an important component to the course and the course grade. Back
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SOCG 334: Medical Sociology

In this course, we will study the sociology of health and illness from a critical perspective. In our sociological study of health and illness we will make some central assumptions: 1) understanding health and illness requires more than biological knowledge; 2) health, illness, and healing occur within social, political, economic, and cultural structures; 3) the institutions and practices of medicine themselves must be taken as objects of inquiry and critique. In addition, we will pay special attention to the subjective experience of illness within various social contexts. Back to top.

SOCG 335: Global Perspectives on Health and Illness 

Analyze problems of health, illness, inequality, and care at the global level. Examine health care systems and health promotion in comparative perspective. Explore how social forces shape individual and group health behaviors and illness experiences in various structural and cultural contexts. Emphasis on health rights as human rights.  Back to top.

SOCG 341: American Society

The course incorporates several different analysts’ interpretations of “what makes America what it is,” with an emphasis on the ways in which America is “unusual” or “different” (i.e. theories of American exceptionalism.) The course begins with an examination of the historical development of many American social patterns, focusing particularly on American social history. This historical portrait will provide a”framework” for understanding different interpretations of contemporary society. The majority of class sessions are devoted to discussing the books which students have been assigned to read. Back to top.

SOCG 342: Sociology of Work: Occupations and Professions

Most individuals seek to be productive members of society. We ask: What kinds of work can I do–or must I do–to become a respected member of my community? But all societies are divided into hierarchies that organize how work is performed. One’s place in this division of labor helps to determine a person’s worth in society. In industrialized societies, to work-and especially to earn an income-is also to gain status as an adult. Thus, working is an important way to develop both a sense of identity and a sense of self-esteem. But each individual chooses an occupation within a set of boundaries–education, ability, social class, gender, and race–that limit or expand her or his life chances. In this course we examine the structure and role of work in American life. We examine why people work, the organization of various occupations, occupational socialization and commitment, and how the nature of work is changing. A secondary focus is on occupational inequality as related to workplace discrimination and harassment, comparable worth, and affirmative action. Finally, we look at how work intersects with other areas of one’s life, principally family and child-rearing. Back to top.

SOCG 347: Sociology of East Asia

Sociology of East Asia is an introductory course on three East Asian countries, China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), Japan, and Korea. Students will critically evaluate how “conventional” sociological theories are limited in explaining non-Western societies but at the same time how Western ideas and practices have a significant and lingering impact on the contemporary East Asian societies. By doing so, students will be able to understand the connections and conflicts between Western and East Asian societies and to reflect on how such global relations shape their own lives and perspectives as citizens of Global North.

SOCG351: Juvenile Delinquency

The development of the concept of juvenile delinquency. The extent and nature of delinquent behavior and efforts at explanation and control.

SOCG 352: Criminology

The major focus of this course is on how to study and analyze crime from a sociological perspective. Emphasis will be placed on learning and applying sociological explanations for crime, along with considering the interrelationships between the nature of crime and the nature of society. Developing each student’s ability to evaluate critically the information we have about a crime, including mass media portrayals and official crime statistics, is another goal of the course. Thus, “debunking”popular myths about crime will be a frequent task of the class. Finally, students will be encouraged to become more “reflective” in their views about the nature of crime in society, in an effort to counteract the many popular misconceptions, which currently guide public debate. Students will be expected to prepare for class discussion on a regular basis,prepare written assignments, and take exams. Back to top.

SOCG354: Environmental Sociology

Examines how contemporary social organization drives environmental degradation and renders some people more vulnerable to its effects, and whether a shift in environmental consciousness and individuals behaviors is sufficient to create a more harmonious relationship between society and the natural world.

SOCG355: Death and Society

An overview of the sociological approach to the study of death and dying. Examines causes of death, treatment of death both before and after the event, the meaning of death from various cultural perspectives and the death industry.

SOCG 364: Quantitative Research Methods and Analysis

The course is designed to provide majors with a broad background for understanding, analyzing, and using fundamental research methodologies. Methodologies include qualitative field observations, research design sampling, survey data collection, coding, basic bivariate and multivariate analysis using computer programming, and report writing.

Through practical applications and hands-on research, this course is intended to complement other courses in preparing students for a variety of jobs or graduate study. Thus, it is a highly rigorous and time-consuming course. It is recommended that you consider this as you select other elective or non-elective required courses this semester. Two textbooks and additional photocopied articles are used. Several research assignments are required, along with three diagnostic quizzes to measure your overall knowledge of research methods. Back to top.

SOCG 365: Qualitative Research Methods and Analysis

Your learning objectives in this course are twofold. On the one hand, you will learn what defines the field of qualitative research, its historical emergence and development, current debates within the field, and its application in the discipline of sociology. On the other hand, you will spend the entire semester developing your own qualitative research project, in which you will be implementing the various methodological techniques we read about and discuss in class; this project will culminate in your writing a term paper on the basis of your own qualitative research. Back to top.

SOCG 371: Selected Topics in Sociology

Major concepts or points of view in contemporary sociology with an emphasis on discussion.

SOCG 400: Sociology of the Body

Sociological interest in the body has increased dramatically in recent years. The idea that our bodies have sociological importance, that they are in fact social symbols that are imbued with meaning has become a popular topic of study, especially in the areas of gender, age, and health. We will begin with a general investigation of the history of ideas about the body and specifically trace social theories of the body from classic to contemporary thinkers. From there, we will consider feminist theories about the body. Our central concern throughout the seminar will be to understand how bodies are sexed/gendered, racialized, ethnicized, aged, sexualized, classed, sickened/cured, etc. What is the subjective experience of embodiment? What is the social significance of the body? What is the relationship between the body and society? Back to top.

SOCG 404: Global Inequality and Development

Explores the intricate relationship between development, globalization, and global inequality from a sociological perspective. The course addresses questions such as: What does development really entail? Who defines what development is and who benefits from development? How does globalization relate to development? What is the relationship between globalization and global inequality? Students consider competing perspectives on these questions, with attention to the role of power relations and historical contingencies in shaping these issues. Back to top .

SOCG 411: Popular Culture

Does it really matter what Homer did in the most recent episode of the Simpsons, or what Dave Mathews’ set list was last night? For many sociologists, the answer to such questions is a resounding “yes.” For sociologists, popular culture is an area of serious intellectual interest for a number of reasons. Within the field, popular culture has traditionally been viewed both as a reflection of the larger society and as an important influence on the general culture. Recently, however, attention has been paid to the power relations between the two. Additionally, some have focused on the processes by which the groups and individuals make meaning out of cultural products. This course will explore these themes, among others. Back to top.

SOCG 415: Sociology of Law

In this course we will examine the role of law in American society, particularly the relationship between legal and other institutions. The course readings will address the tensions between law as an equalizing force versus law as hierarchy, prompting students to ask questions like,  Does law merely reflect the values and goals of society? Does it have its own force and autonomy? Does law exist primarily to serve the status quo, or does law effect social change? We will begin with an overview of the American legal structure and culture, with attention paid to our “litigious society” and our desire for “total justice.” With that background, we will then turn to classical and contemporary theoretical approaches to making sense of the law. Next we will take up a detailed examination of the legal profession using Jennifer Pierce’s Gender Trials: Emotional Lives in Contemporary Law Firms. Finally, we will look at
how legal institutions help bring about social change, using desegregation and divorce law as examples. Back to top.

SOCG 421: Racial and Ethnic Relations

This course will explore the ongoing “problem of the color line” in US society by introducing students to the sociological study of racial and ethnic relations. While we will examine aspects of the experiences of various racial and ethnic groups and their members, this course is not a survey of different ethnic groups in the US. Rather, we will examine the social significance of race and ethnicity (how did we come to develop these concepts? Is there an underlying “truth” to them?), examine some of the social and cultural processes through which notions of difference are maintained (prejudice, discrimination, racism). We will next examine some consequences of racial/ethnic classification through analysis of immigration, popular culture, labor market experiences and social movements. Typical assignments include a series of short papers and a larger research project. Typical readings include a reader and several short monographs. Back to top.

SOCG 432: Political Sociology

This course is designed to introduce you to a variety of topics in the field of political sociology. Although the content and primary objectives of this course are academic, it also aims at making you a more informed political actor by raising your general knowledge about the uses of power and the nature of politics. In addition, you should be able to leave this class with an ability to understand and evaluate political action and political behavior in formal organizations and in the larger national and world political arenas. We explore various theoretical perspectives and research findings within political sociology, a field that is located at the intersection of sociology, political science, history, and economics. In particular, the course examines the roles of political institutions, state capacities, business, labor, citizens, political elites, and political parties in shaping national policies. While the focus of the course is largely on the United States, cross-country comparisons are drawn in order to consider alternative political systems and their effects. Back to top.

SOCG 434: Gender & Work

This seminar examines the opportunities, imperatives, and experiences of women and men at work. Work is structured by institutional arrangements that come before us and that change over time and are shaped in relation to institutions in society other than the economy, especially the family. Work, occupational opportunities, and cultural expectations are also shaped by the intersectionality of class, race, and gender in our lives and experiences. Readings and projects are selected to emphasize related questions and themes.

SOCG 440: Sociology of Education

This course explores the social construction of schooling processes, and also examines a variety of explanations for inequality in educational outcomes. We will problematize the assumption of schooling as “meritocratic,” and will explore other ways of thinking through school success and failure. We will look at schooling processes in the K-12 range, college and university, and the link between schooling and occupations. Current issues such as home schooling and No Child Left Behind will also be discussed. I typically assign 3 or 4 books, several short papers, and a longer research paper. Participation in class discussions is also an important component to the course and the course grade. Back to top.

SOCG 442: Social Change

Considers alternative theoretical approaches to the study of social change, with an emphasis on collective action outside of “normal” politics and contestation as process. Examination of historical and socio-economic context in shaping limits and potential for social change. Back to top.

SOCG 471: History of Social Theory

This course provides an overview of select major social theorists from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries. We read original writings by theorists such as Martineau, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Simmel, Gilman, DuBois, and Cooper, locating their ideas in context of the larger socio-historical processes informing and shaping them. We focus on foundational principles and concepts, taking these theorists’ ideas on their own terms and focusing on the text. Moreover, students consider their continued relevance for understanding issues we face in contemporary society. Throughout the course, we consider processes of legitimation in the history of the discipline. Which theorists and ideas counted as valid, which were marginalized, and how has that changed in response to social conditions and ideas? Back to top.

SOCG 472: Contemporary Sociological Theories

This course introduces students to the rather confounded state of theory in contemporary sociology and related social sciences. Initially, we shall touch on what would seem to be a fairly straightforward question–what is theory?–and we will find that, even at this most basic level, sociologists are not in agreement with one another. Next we shall turn our attention to the foundations of major schools or currents of contemporary sociological theory such as conflict, exchange, functional, and interactionalist orientations. After considering these broadly defined approaches, our attention will turn to more specific contributions within each of these schools of thought. Finally, we will examine a recent and thought-provoking example of contemporary theory construction in the social sciences by reading and discussing Robert Axelrod’s influential work on the evolution of co-operation. This course is designed to be very reading- and discussion-intensive. The final grade is based on two components: (1) consistency and quality of class participation and (2) performance on a final paper project.
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SOCG475: Public Sociology

Students will be trained on participatory action research methods. Action research is community-based and operates on a collaborative model of social research that simultaneously engages academic practices and democratic social change. Data used may include interviews, focus groups, participant observation, documents, records, reports, and surveys.