Why Sociology?

The sociology curriculum cultivates what C. Wright Mills termed a well-developed
sociological imagination, or “the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of
individual and society, of biography and history, of self and the world.” The enduring
value of a sociological imagination is to help students situate peoples’ lives and
important events in broader social contexts by understanding how political,
economic, and cultural forces constitute social life. The intellectual skills students
associated with a sociological imagination have enduring value in many settings.
Sociology is the systemic study of social life. Systemic refers to the importance of
both theory (general ideas that help interpret diverse events) and empirical
observation (purposefully-collected and analyzed information) in developing
explanations. In keeping with the spirit of open-minded inquiry and respect for
disparate ways of observing and understanding that remain the highest aims of the
liberal arts tradition, sociology fosters students to develop a diverse range of skills
and perspectives.

Sociological insight is synonymous with theoretical pluralism. The inherent
complexities of social life cannot be wholly captured in any one theoretical stance,
even as much as any one perspective may generate lasting, important insights into
various social processes. Training in sociological theory cultivates in students the
skills to draw upon multiple perspectives to make informed judgments and
interpretations of the broader world around them and to strive for more
comprehensive, synthetic understandings of social life.

The sociology curriculum places a premium on methodological fluency and dexterity.
Students are expected to demonstrate facility with diverse approaches to collecting
and evaluating evidence that substantiates knowledge claims and to develop an
understanding of the strengths and limitations of differing methodological
orientations. These skills are highly relevant to professional vocations that require an
aptitude for critical, analytical, and logical thinking and the ability to use information
and communication resources effectively.

The substantive foci of the sociology curriculum parallel the College’s mission to
advance internationalism, multiculturalism, and service to society/civic engagement.
The department’s emphasis on comparative sociology offers a distinctive contribution
to the study of internationalism. The sociology curriculum promotes an understanding
of cultures and societies outside the United States, provides instruction in the
principles of cross-national and cross-cultural analysis, and examines social
processes that operate on an international or global scale.

The study of social identities and communities is a fundamental concern of sociology,
and the exploration of these social contexts is a pivotal contribution of the sociology
curriculum to the multicultural objectives of a Macalester education. The experience
of communal life spans relationships embedded in intimate primary groups, kinship in
racial and ethnic lineages, office-holding in large formal organizations, membership in
voluntary associations and collective movements, and compulsory citizenship in city,
state, and national publics, to name but a few manifestations of human sociability.

The practices and ideas lodged in social collectivities provide the context in which
humans forge and re-forge their sense of self. The sociology department offers a
range of courses that survey the varied, complex dimensions of social life from
vantage points that reveal processes of identity formation and communal

Public sociology is sociology invested in raising the quality of civic deliberation and
revitalizing the public sphere. These aims find diverse expression in the curriculum:
the study of contemporary social problems, charting the historical transformation of
social policies, and explorations of social processes that underpin a vibrant
democracy. The sociology curriculum also affords opportunities to students for
developing ties with urban-based community organizations that enrich their academic
experience and provide a foundation for ongoing civic engagement.
Graduates of the sociology program pursue diverse careers in public service, the
nonprofit sector, and business. The sociology curriculum endeavors to cultivate
intellectual competencies relevant to a broad spectrum of post-graduate training and
professional vocations.