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Sociology

Jennifer Girouard

Sociology is the study of the relationship between biography and history; between large-scale trends and the lives of individual human beings throughout the world.

Sociology is an inherently interdisciplinary field that draws from anthropology, history, philosophy, political economy, gender and cultural studies, and the other social sciences. A broad background in the liberal arts is recommended to any student of sociology.

Sociology courses are designed in pursuit of the following goals:

  • To develop a command of the sociological imagination, the ability to situate biography in history and to see the social world in context.
  • To explore what sociology is, what sociologists do, and how they do it through close reading and analysis of studies by sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and others.
  • To develop the capacity for critical thinking and analysis.
  • To develop clear and concise communication skills.
  • To practice conducting scholarly research, and to learn to approach research from a sociological perspective.

Training in sociology provides a unique lens on the world that is a valuable tool across the disciplines. Classes in this discipline focus on research interests such as contemporary American society, popular culture, the interaction between humans and the environment, political ecology, globalization and its impacts on the environment, race, class, gender, and sexuality, inequality, and social movements.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Environmental justice and environmental sociology
  • Sociology of disasters
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Race, Class & Gender
  • Globalization and the environment
  • Contemporary American society
  • Popular culture
  • Social movements

 

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

INTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY (SSC23)
This course introduces the student to the theories and perspectives of sociology. We will explore a variety of substantive areas within the field, touching on many of the major subfields. These include the social formation of behavior and identity, the sociology of emotions, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, social class and its reproduction, environmental justice, and social movements. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

GENDER AND SEXUALITY (SSC***)
Every day, gender norms and prescriptions shape the way we think about, act within, and discuss the world we live in. From birth, people are separated into categories of male and female, and are subsequently treated differently based on the roles that are assigned by the dominant culture. In this course, we will examine the ways in which societal expectations and our own perceptions of sexuality, violence, family, religion, education, health, work, and public policy are shaped by gender. We will look at gender theories in the contexts of femininities and masculinities, as neither are possible to understand without an analysis of the other. We will also explore in depth the concept of gender beyond the exclusive dichotomy of male and female. We will discuss how gender is not essential, but rather a complex process that is continuously created, maintained, and transformed. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY (SSC***)
This course explores the interplay between environment and society. What do we mean when we talk about ‘the environment’? How does our relationship to the ‘natural’ world influence the way we live? We will discuss the impact that capitalism, urbanization, suburbanization, globalization, public policy, and inequality have on the environment and on society. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

THE AMERICAN DREAM: SOCIAL CLASS IN AMERICA (SSC***)
In this class, we will examine the American Dream ideology from a sociological perspective. How has the American Dream changed over time? How can we understand the history of social class in America, how it has evolved, and how it impacts social life today? We will draw on classical and contemporary theory, as well as on a variety of sociological and anthropological accounts of social class to answer these questions.  Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

SOCIOLOGY OF POPULAR CULTURE (SSC***)
How can we apply sociology and critical analysis skills to popular culture? How is popular culture influenced by social institutions? What is the relationship between popular culture and the political economy? What impacts does popular culture have on our personal and political lives? We will draw from various forms of media (television, music, movies, print media, and the like) and connect themes from popular culture to sociological theory. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

SOCIAL PROBLEMS (SSC568)

In this course, we will explore a variety of “social problems,” key issues facing contemporary society, from a sociological perspective. In particular, we will discuss the nature and character of social problems and their construction, the way social problems are framed by their claims-makers and opponents, and the various theoretical paradigms that may be applied to these areas.  This course asks: How does power - of claims-makers, of activists, of the media, and of the state - play into our perceptions of what constitutes a social problem?  How do race, gender, class, sexuality and nation inflect everyday life and macro level structures? What is the benefit of applying a sociological lens to social problems? The course will explore a range of issues from homelessness to the prison industrial complex to reproductive rights.  A primary learning goal is to develop critical thinking skills that will allow you to question and critique both your own ideas about social issues as well as information presented to you by the media and the people around you. We will also devote significant attention to social movements organized in response to each issue covered in this course. Prerequisites: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

FOOD, WASTE, AND JUSTICE (SSC577)

This course will explore the politics of food and waste systems from an environmental justice lens. Topics covered will include the food justice movement, systems of food production, distribution, and consumption, globalization and the export of environmental hazards, social and ecological injustice, and the polluter-industrial complex. Prerequisite: Introductory course in the Social Sciences or Sociological Theory    Intermediate | Credits: 4

INEQUALITY AND ‘NATURAL’ DISASTERS (SSC***)
How do societies respond to disaster, and what do disasters reveal about society? What makes certain communities more vulnerable to disaster, or more able to adapt after a disaster has occurred? We will examine in depth the different analytical frameworks used to understand vulnerability, mitigation, and adaptation to disaster. We will also discuss the intricacies and inadequacies of the term ‘natural disaster,’ looking at the different definitions of disaster in sociological literature.

My goal for this course is that each student leave with an understanding of how to examine disasters from a sociological perspective. This course operates on the premise that disasters are essentially social events that reflect back to us the way we live and structure our communities, as they lay our society bare. We will study theories of social vulnerability that put people at risk before, during, and after disasters. In particular, we will investigate how vulnerable social groups (for example, those living in developing countries, racial and ethnic minorities, low-income populations, women, children, and the elderly) are affected by, cope with, and in some cases build resilience to, disaster, through a variety of domestic and international case studies.
Prerequisite: Introductory course in sociology/anthropology, or permission of instructor    Advanced | Credits: 4

CONSUMPTION AND ADVERTISING (SSC***)
This course aims to examine the development of mass production, consumption, and of the American consumer. We will focus on the history of industrialization, the development of the advertising industry, and the environmental impact of our current system of production and consumption.
Prerequisite: None    Advanced | Credits: 4

SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY (SSC576)

This course will explore the classical texts of sociological theory and examine how they manifest in contemporary sociological theory. This course is required for anybody who wishes to do a Plan in Sociology. Prerequisite: Introduction to Sociology or Introduction to Anthropology    Advanced | Credits 4

RESEARCH METHODS (SSC584)

This course provides an introduction to research methods often employed in anthropology and sociology. Through a mix of readings and fieldwork, students will learn the basics of survey design, participant observation, interviewing techniques, evaluation analysis, and ethnography. We will also discuss the ethical considerations fundamental to conducting research with human participants. Each student will leave this course having crafted a research proposal for use in their Plan, study abroad work, a fellowship, or a research paper, and run this proposal through IRB. All students wishing to pursue Plan work in Sociology or Anthropology are required to take this course. Prerequisite: Introductory level work in the social sciences     Advanced | Credits: 4

FEMINIST AND QUEER THEORY (SSC559)

Both Queer Theory and Feminist Theory struggle with the issue of providing a coherent critique of existing forms of power while not reproducing a hierarchy of oppression. This class looks at some of the foundational material in feminist and queer thought (Wollstonecraft, Woolf, Foucault, and hooks) using their concepts to interrogate contemporary political controversies. Students who take this class will develop skills in analyzing arguments, applying concepts to real life issues, and a sense of the history of two critical strands in political and social thought.  Prerequisite: Permission of instructor    Advanced | Credits: 4

MARRIAGE: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS (SSC***)
The institution of marriage is the topic of a ‘culture war’ in contemporary American society. How does the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision of 2004 legalizing same-sex marriage impact the meaning of marriage as an institution? How can we understand the push for same-sex marriage from a feminist and queer theory perspective? How can we situate these discussions historically and theoretically? This course will discuss history, literature, film, and legal scholarship, making use of cross-cultural, sociological, anthropological, and other theoretical approaches to the concept of marriage from the 1600s until the present day. We will explore how sex, marriage, and the family have never been stable institutions, but rather have always operated as political, social, and cultural concepts that are constantly in flux.  Prerequisite: Introductory course in sociology/anthropology, or permission of instructor    Advanced | Credits: 4

Good Foundation for Plan

In addition to attaining a solid foundation in sociology through introductory and intermediate courses, as well as a broad background in other liberal arts, Plan students are recommended to take Introduction to Sociology, Classical Sociological Theory, Contemporary Sociological Theory, and Research Methods. Students should also consider a specialized methods course depending on the focus of their Plan research.

Sample Tutorial Topics

  • Hurricane Katrina
  • 2010 Earthquake in Haiti
  • Climate Justice
  • Intimate Partner Violence
  • Transgender Identity and Politics
  • Queer Theory
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • Environmental Refugees
  • Reproductive Justice
  • Social Movements
  • Urban Sociology and the Built Environment
  • Suburbanization
  • Urban Greening