What is sociology? The answer depends on who you ask. Even founders of the discipline did not typically agree: Emile Durkheim said that sociology is the objective, scientific study of social facts as things, much like biology is the study of living things. Georg Simmel said that sociology is the study of the forms of social interaction, much like geometry is the study of mathematical forms. Today, the American Sociological Association says “Sociology is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts.” How do we reconcile these into a comprehensive definition?
Rather than argue over what sociology is, this course will introduce you to what sociology does. We will discuss some of what is shared by sociologists: a focus on rigorous empirical and theoretical research; a set of topics relating to the social world; an emphasis on the institutional dimensions of social life; and the exercise of a unique perspective, often called “the sociological imagination.” You will also practice doing sociology yourselves, both by engaging with key substantive subfields and by honing your own sociological imaginations. The material will be ambitious and demanding, and will require a high level of engagement. It is best to stay on top – or even ahead – of the work.
By the end of this course, I hope that students will learn to:
1. Define and clarify the role of sociology as the “science of society”;
2. Understand how sociologists explain the world, by engaging with major theorists and theoretical debates that frame the discipline;
3. Discuss, critique, and apply some of the key methods of this science;
4. Identify and develop familiarity with at least one important topic of sociological study;
5. Cultivate those habits of the mind commonly called “the sociological imagination”; and
6. Evaluate sociological claims in both academic and “real world” settings.||en_US