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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 organization.

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.