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Sociology involves rethinking “common sense”; it involves a re-examination of our society and a reconsideration of our assumptions about basic social dynamics.  During the semester, we will examine the ways in which society and social processes shape our lives.  To do so, we will explore the structure of ideas that contexualize our lives, the ways in which these ideas are institutionalized in formal and informal social organizations, and how this institutionalization forms a social structure that constrains and enables change.


A sociological perspective on race and ethnicity suggests that racial and ethnic categories – including ‘white’ – are not objective measures of biological difference, but the result of historical struggles over economic resources, political access, and cultural identity. These categories are being made and remade as meaningful today. It suggests, further, that racism and ethnic prejudice and their corollary, white privilege, are not simply the properties of (bad) individuals. Racial and ethnic prejudice are also institutionalized (part of our social organizations and, thus, the social structure), cultural (part of collective meaning making), and social psychological (part of our unconscious psychologies). Institutions and cultural products often reaffirm both conscious and unconscious prejudices. Finally, a sociological perspective suggests that racial and ethnic conflict is not simply a matter of prejudice. It reflects a constellation of ideological commitments (to ideas like individualism, meritocracy, and laissez faire capitalism) and serves to preserve material class privilege. Understanding how beliefs about race intersect with other beliefs individuals hold helps us think through interpersonal and societal conflicts that are overtly racialized as well as those that appear colorblind.


Our ideas about gender – about women, men, masculinity, and femininity – organize our social life in important ways that we often do not even notice. These ideas are either invisible to us (such that we take them for granted as “normal”) or explained away (such that they seem like the “natural” way life works). Sociology asks us to investigate and expose the aspects of social life we take for granted. Accordingly, in this course we will be critically examining the ways gender informs the social world in which we live. My goals for this course are 1) to reveal the “common-sense” world of gender around you; 2) to consider how we learn to “do” gender as women and men; 3) to expose the workings of the institutions that shape our gendered lives; and 4) to understand how gender inequality is reproduced.


This course introduces four theoretical perspectives on sexuality: biology (sexuality is a matter of sexual bodies and chemistry), psychological (sexuality is a matter of mental states and processes), social constructionist (sexuality is a cultural and historical product), and conflict (sexuality is a contested arena in which different groups vie for power). With these perspectives in mind, we explore four broad questions: How should we regulate sexual behavior? What is sexual consent? Who’s responsible for the fact that sex makes babies? And, what is good sex?


This course challenges students to examine taken-for-granted beliefs about the naturalness of sexuality and to, instead, consider the relationship between individual sexualities, (sub)cultures, institutions, and the nation-state.  In doing so, we will link the contemporary context for our sexual lives, experiences, and feelings with the history of sexuality in the United States.  As we go, we’ll focus on how sex and power interact.  The course will ask question such as: Why and how do we control sexual behavior?  Whose behavior do we attempt to control?  How is the control of sexuality related to the preservation or disruption of race, gender, and class boundaries?  How are our own sexualities contingent on our history and our present? And, finally, what is the state of our “sexual revolution” and how might we evaluate it?


This course looks at the ways sociologists collect information about social phenomena with a special emphasis on what can be done to yield information that is trustworthy and useful for our theoretical understanding of social life. It assumes no background in research methods or statistics. We will talk about the scientific method, the complexities of applying methods to social research, ethics and bias, and research design. You will also learn about major “quantitative” and “qualitative” methodologies, including surveys, interviews, ethnography, experiments, participant observation, and content analysis – and have opportunities to try out these methods

Photo credit: Occidental College.

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