Kat Rickenbacker

Jerry Levy

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.

The student is encouraged to develop her or his own research interests beyond the areas focused on in classes.  My own interests are environmental sociology, environmental justice, and political ecology, as well as race, class, gender, and sexuality. As a graduate student at Northeastern University, my doctoral dissertation focused on small-scale, grassroots urban greening projects in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and their effects on social capital and the built environment.

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)

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

This course engages with contemporary social problems as depicted through documentary films. We will engage in depth with each documentary, exploring the academic research around each social problem and situating it within a larger sociological literature. Students will ultimately create the screenplay for their own documentary, based on independent research about a contemporary social problem.  Prerequisite: NoneIntroductory | Credits: 4

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: NoneIntroductory | Credits: 4

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: NoneIntroductory | Credits: 4

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: NoneIntroductory | Credits: 4

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: NoneIntroductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

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

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

We will explore the major ideas, theories, and methodologies of some of the founders of the field of Sociology. In particular, we’ll look at the works of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and others in relation to the evolution of industrial society, and discuss how they have shaped the field of sociology today. Prerequisite: Introductory course in sociology/anthropology, or permission of instructor. Advanced | Credits: 4

We will explore sociological theories from the 20th and 21st century, including works from the prominent feminist and queer theorists, as well as modern race theorists. Where is the field of sociology headed, and how are contemporary theorists making sense of the social world? Prerequisite: Introductory course in sociology/anthropology, or permission of instructor. Advanced | Credits: 4

How do we collect social data? What are some of the methodological tools of the trade, and what is the place of ethics in sociological research? This course provides a foundation for social research, and will culminate with students writing a research proposal - either hypothetical or to use for their Plan work.
Prerequisite: None.Advanced | Credits: 4

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