Reed College Catalog


Sociology is the study of human conduct from the perspective of the history and the “anatomy” or structure of the group. The focus is on how people coordinate their activities to reach individual and collective goals in a wide range of institutional settings. Sociological analysis explores social situations from the standpoint of the social statuses, roles, meanings, and norms that make behavior reciprocally predictable and organized. Sociology investigates how such patterns of interdependent activity originate and what sustains them, why they take one shape instead of another, how some types of patterned behavior change more rapidly than others, how such patterns or institutional forms are related to one another, and how people justify and explain what they see themselves doing.

Sociology regards patterns of social relations as embedded in the historical process and learned as customary behavior—as institutional practices. Therefore, the sociological perspective is closely linked to comparative historical and cross-cultural studies of social institutions and to psychological studies of human learning.

Sociological study is motivated by skepticism toward commonsense explanations of social behavior. The sociologist transforms conventional wisdom into questions that can be examined in a disciplined, systematic way by asking: what is the evidence for these propositions, under what conditions might they be confirmed, and how might they be disconfirmed with contrary evidence?

The department strives to introduce students to alternative ways of thinking and asking questions about sociocultural and interpersonal phenomena. Those who are curious and puzzled about why and how things in the social universe work as they do, who are willing to be skeptical about the self-evident, obvious, and taken-for-granted truths of common sense, and who have a high tolerance for ambiguity usually find our courses more interesting and challenging than those searching for ultimate meanings or looking for the final, absolute answers.

The department’s program contributes to a general education in the arts and sciences by surveying sociology’s basic modes of thought and strategies of inquiry. A vast amount of public and private decision making in contemporary society is based on social research such as public policy evaluation; media, opinion, and marketing surveys; census studies; and population analyses. To cope with life in a modern society and to make independent judgments, an educated citizen should have a critical understanding of what social science research does to, for, and about him or her. Toward that end, many sociology courses provide hands-on experience with modern social research procedures.

To fulfill college or divisional distribution requirements, students should enroll in Sociology 211, Introduction to Sociology, followed by another course in the department. Upper-division courses introduce students to the core fields and paradigmatic issues of sociological theory and research.

Requirements for the Major

  1. Sociology 211.
  2. Sociology 311.
  3. Sociology 470.
  4. Any five additional units of sociology.
  5. Junior qualifying examination. This requirement is satisfied by submitting a paper analyzing two research monographs in an area of substantive interest, preparatory to senior thesis work. Instructions are available on request and in the sociology folder on the courses server.

Recommended: Mathematics 141 is recommended and will apply to the Group D requirement. Further work in mathematics and in other fields in the Division of History and Social Sciences is strongly recommended for students planning to continue their studies at the graduate level or in professional schools.

Sociology 211 - Introduction to Sociology

Full course for one semester. An introduction to sociological perspectives on patterns of human conduct ranging from fleeting encounters in informal gatherings to historical processes of institutional persistence and change. Topics of discussion and research include the stratification of life chances, social honor and power in human populations, and the differentiation of these populations by gender, race, age, ethnicity, and other characteristics both achieved and ascribed; the integration of differentiated roles and statuses into systems capable of maintaining their structure beyond the life span of living individuals, and capable as well of revolutionary and evolutionary social change; and the interrelationships of familial, economic, political, educational, and religious institutions in the emerging world system of late modernity. Prerequisite: sophomore standing or consent of the instructor. Lecture-conference and computer lab.

Sociology 244 - Race and Ethnicity

Full course for one semester. This course is an introduction to the sociology of race and ethnic relations, with particular emphasis on the socially structured situations of African Americans. The course surveys general theoretical approaches to race and ethnicity, and applies them to specific historical developments in American race relations and the African American community. A central objective is to understand the conditions under which segregation, racial hierarchies, and racial conflict emerge. Topics include identity formation and assimilation; ethnic competition, internal colonialism, and split labor markets; the development of the racial state; residential segregation and the “underclass”; the role of schools and prisons in regulating labor markets; and the civil rights movement and the welfare state. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Sociology 280 - Social Movements

Full course for one semester. Why do some social movements fail, while others succeed? The goal of this course is to introduce students to sociological theories of social movement success and failure. Through a review of classical and contemporary theories and case studies of women’s liberation, gay liberation, abortion, civil rights, environmentalism, and the peace and disarmament movements, we will identify key analytical questions and research strategies for studying contemporary social movements in depth. Among the perspectives reviewed will be classical approaches (de Tocqueville, “mass society,” and “relative deprivation”), as well as more recent perspectives that focus on rational choice, resource mobilization, political process, and new social movements. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Sociology 311 - Research Methods

Full course for one semester. The primary objective is to provide background for empirical research in the social sciences. Specific objectives include deepening understanding of the logic of inference by exploring the relationship between empirical observations and causal models and introducing basic research techniques. Topics include the logic of inference, the nature of evidence, and a nonmathematical introduction to quantitative social analysis, emphasizing regression. Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

Sociology 318 - The Sociology of Gender

Full course for one semester. Gender is a central organizing principle in social relations, giving rise to institutions and social practices that distinguish between men and women on the basis of apparent difference and inequality. This course develops the sociological analysis of gender systems in contemporary American society. It engages key theoretical and empirical approaches to gender, moving beyond individual, biological, and psychological approaches to analyze how gender is regulated and (re)produced by social norms and institutions. Topics include sex segregation of the labor market, sex differences in pay and job preferences, childhood socialization and education, power and the division of labor in families and households, and male-female interaction. The central theme throughout the course is to understand how gender roles and attitudes shape social structure, and how gender inequalities are maintained in everyday social situations. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Sociology 320 - Feminisms: Comparative Perspectives on Women’s Activism

Full course for one semester. The goal of this course is to introduce sociological analyses of women’s movements via an exploration of feminism. Through a review of classical and contemporary theories and case studies, we will identify key analytical questions and research strategies for studying the dynamics of contemporary women’s activism. Among the perspectives reviewed will be classical approaches to social movements (emphasizing mass society and relative deprivation), as well as more recent perspectives that focus on resource mobilization, the political process, framing, and transnationalism. We will examine how feminism emerged as a movement and how it changes as it moves across borders and generations. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Sociology 328 - Foundations of Social Psychology

Full course for one semester. Social psychology is an interdisciplinary field that concerns the relationship between social structure and individual action. This course provides a broad introduction to the theoretical perspectives and research problems of contemporary social psychology from sociological perspectives. The course is organized around four dominant theoretical strategies: social structure and personality, symbolic interactionism, cognitive social psychology, and structural social psychology. We examine how each theoretical strategy treats the relationship between groups and the individual, and the structures and group processes that emerge from interactions among individuals and groups. Topics include self and identity, intergroup relations, race and gender as status characteristics, stereotyping and discrimination, social exchange, and trust. The emphasis throughout the course is on understanding the principal theoretical and methodological assumptions of each perspective and their application to one or more substantive questions. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Sociology 332 - The Sociology of Education

Full course for one semester. Education is central to multiple social processes such as the socialization of youth and the structuring of social inequality. This course surveys sociological analyses of education in contemporary American society, covering the key theoretical and empirical approaches employed by sociologists of education. Topics covered will include the role of education as an agent of socialization, the dual role of education in the production of social mobility and the preservation of socioeconomic, racial and class privilege.  We will also examine the individual’s experience of education and the relationships among education, culture, politics and economics. Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

Sociology 337 - The Collapse of Communism

Full course for one semester. The collapse of Communism opened up a new terrain for sociologists: the formerly closed societies of Eastern Europe. This course explores the shape that states, markets, and societies are taking in this region. We use sociological theories and tools to understand transitions from Communism. Are these societies developing along a common transition path? How has their engagement with the West diverged from initial expectations? The substantive areas that we examine include activism and protest; authoritarianism; social policy; gender and national identity construction; criminal networks; and the influence of Western actors and organizations. Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

Sociology 339 - Race and Immigration in the U.S.

Full course for one semester. This course examines the intersection of race and immigration in the United States. We will examine theories of international migration and theories of race and ethnicity. We will explore empirical topics on the effect of immigration on racial/ethnic identity, social mobility among immigrant generations and its roots in and impact on racial inequality in the U.S.; and key controversies about immigration policies, with implications for race relations. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Sociology 340 - American Capitalism

Full course for one semester. This is a comparative historical course on the development of American capitalism, focusing on the rise of mass markets and giant corporations as its dominant organizing principles. We survey theoretical approaches used to explain American capitalism and engage historical analyses of the key turning points in the development of our economy. A central objective is to document the existence of more efficient, democratic, and decentralized alternatives to the type of capitalism that came to prevail in the United States. Topics include the role of culture, politics, and finance capital in the development of the corporation; the rise and fall of cooperative, regionally based systems; mass production; populist responses to economic centralization; American labor; and state regulation. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Sociology 345 - Regulation

Full course for one semester. This course addresses the problem of regulation and its design from a historical and interdisciplinary perspective. It will begin with the Chicago School critique of economic regulation. It will use that critique as a foil for critically reexamining both the rise of regulation in the Progressive and New Deal eras and the “deregulation” movement of the late twentieth century. It will then focus on the regulatory forms currently under consideration, ranging from regulation by information, private and public certification schemes, and cap and trade systems, to self-regulatory systems, “soft law,” and deliberative or experimentalist governance. Throughout, we will develop three critical themes: how regulation makes rather than interferes with markets; how to design regulatory arrangements that upgrade rather than suppress competition; and how decisions about regulation are decisions about the kinds of economies, economic development and industrial orders we will pursue. Course prerequisites: Sociology 211; or at least sophomore standing and one of the following: Economics 201, Political Science 210, Political Science 220; or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Sociology 350 - Sociology of Science

Full course for one semester. Science and technology play an increasingly important role in society, social change, and economic life, influencing how we understand our environment, organize economic activity, and enact public policy. Yet science, knowledge, and technology are themselves developed to serve conflicting interests and social projects. This course examines the position of science in society. It examines how science shapes social norms and action, and how science and knowledge are products of their social organization and context. Topics include the nature of knowledge, the boundaries of public and private science, the diffusion of technology, the role of innovation in economic growth, the construction of scientific practices and facts, scientific careers, and the effects of gender and racial stratification on science. Students in this course will become familiar with the core theoretical approaches in the sociology of science and technology, and gain a deeper understanding of the social construction of science. Prerequisites: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Sociology 355 - Economic Sociology

Full course for one semester. This is a course on the sociology of markets and economic activity in capitalist societies. Its core goal is to understand how rational, economic activities are facilitated, modified, or impeded by collective commitments and social institutions. We address how variation and change in the social structures of economic life are produced, and the consequences for cooperation, rationality, justice, and economic development. Topics include contracts, networks, associations, and hierarchies as core structures of economic life; the construction of markets and industries; cooperative alternatives to the corporation; the role of culture, power, and identity in private enterprise; cross-national differences in capitalism; innovation; and globalization. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 and one upper-division course in sociology or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Sociology 357 - Political Sociology

Full course for one semester. This course provides a general overview of sociological theories of political transformation. Its focus will be on strategies used in modern society to justify, contest, or remedy persistent inequality. The first part of the course examines attempts to theorize the relationship between social change and the state. The second part of the course examines sociological theories of political activism and public opinion formation. Students will prepare a research paper examining the role social movements or the media play in shaping politics. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Sociology 358 - Military Sociology

Full course for one semester. The study of war and the military in sociology is not as developed as one would expect given how much time and money are spent on the military and war and how many lives have been affected by warfare and military service. How does sociological theory account for war and militarism? How have war and military service affected American society? How is the military similar to and different from other organizations and institutions? The areas we examine include the effects of war on state formation, democracy and citizenship; the relationship of capitalism to war; the interaction between the military as an organization and an institution; and the changing social constructions of gender, race, class and sexuality. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Sociology 363 - Sociology of Culture

Full course for one semester. The course surveys recent sociological studies of cultural production. It surveys how cultural materials are used to establish and maintain boundaries that differentiate among middle-class status groups in contemporary America and how diverse organizations such as museums, art galleries, and record companies manage the production and distribution of cultural symbols for a diversified market. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2011–12.

Sociology 372 - Sociology of Crime and Deviance

Full course for one semester. This course examines the sociological literature on crime and deviance. The course opens with a discussion of the major theories of crime and deviance, including labeling, broken windows, deterrence, conflict theory, rational choice, anomie, differential association, and social bond theory. Because these theories attempt to explain why people commit crimes, we will evaluate their success in doing so. We will examine central aspects of the criminal justice system, including policing, courts, prisons, and the war on drugs. We will consider the effects of race, class, gender, and other social statuses on the commission of crime and on the crime control apparatus. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Sociology 377 - Friendship, Status, and Social Pressure

Full course for one semester. This course studies friendships between individuals and friendship groups and intimate relationships, applying social psychological theories of interaction and group processes. What happens when friends interact, and how do friendships affect other areas of people’s lives? We examine the effects of hierarchies of status and power and of norms and social pressure on friendships and intimate relationships. How do social categories like gender, race, and class affect friendships? What are the unwritten rules of behavior among friends in different situations, and what happens when we violate them? While we study friendships at all ages and in many different settings, this course has a special emphasis on friendship in childhood and adolescence and in school settings, as this is the time and place when most of us learn the rules and patterns of interaction among friends and peers. We also examine intimate relationships in adolescence and adulthood as a special case of friendships. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Sociology 380 - Networks and Social Structure

Full course for one semester. Social network dynamics influence communities, neighborhoods, families, work life, and innovations. Network theories of social structure view actors as inherently interdependent, and examine how social structure emerges from regularities in this interdependence. This course focuses on the theoretical foundations of structural network dynamics, and identifies key analytical questions and research strategies for studying network formation, organization, and development. Attention is paid to both interactionist and structuralist traditions in network analysis, and focus is on the core principles of balance and centrality, connectivity and clustering, power and hierarchy, and social structure writ large. Substantive topics include social mobility and stratification, group organization and mobilization, patterns of creativity and innovation, resource distributions, decision making, and the organization of movement and belief systems. This course couples theoretical and substantive themes with methodological applications. Time is spent on the process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting social network data. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Sociology 470 - Thesis

One-half or full course for one year.

Sociology 481 - Special Topics

One-half or full course for one semester. Work is restricted to special fields in sociology—demography, communication analysis, and community surveys. Prerequisites: junior or senior standing and approval of instructor and division.