Reed College Catalog

Jessica Epstein

Political sociology, governance and regulation, sociology of food.

Shani A. Evans

Stratification, sociology of education, race and ethnicity.

Alexandra Hrycak

Social movements, political sociology.

Matthew Lawrence

Stratification, mobility, education, quantitative methods.

Marc Schneiberg

Economic sociology, organizations, institutional analysis. On sabbatical 2015–16.

Kjersten Bunker Whittington

Science and technology, gender, work and organizations, social networks. On sabbatical 2015–16.

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 230 - Sociology of Food

Full course for one semester.  The course will engage major questions and topics in the sociology of food. They include the nature of America’s food-health crisis, the political economy of agriculture, the politics of food risk, food safety regulation, the alternative food movement and alternative foodways, health ideologies and practices, hunger and other issues of food access, food as a tool of social distinction, food labor, and food regimes. We will employ a number of theoretical lenses, drawn primarily from political economy, cultural sociology, and theories of risk. Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

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 2015—16.

Sociology 247 - Race, Class, Gender: Intersections in Inequality

Full course for one semester. Taking a sociological approach, this course treats race and ethnicity as social constructs that permeate social life, are entrenched in social structures and institutions, and change over time and place. The goal of this course is to examine how the construct of race develops in relationship to other systems of social differentiation, including class and gender. We will consider how these coexisting social hierarchies shape identities, determine life chances, establish relationships of marginality and privilege, and generate social stability and conflict. Racial formation, intersectionality, and symbolic boundaries will be among the theoretical approaches discussed. Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

Sociology 248 - Race, Economic Sociology, and Organizations

Full course for one semester. This course examines the social and institutional structures of economic life and their effects on race, stratification, and the system of ethnic relations in the contemporary United States. It examines those dynamics through the lenses of economic and organizational sociology, which view economic activities and outcomes as socially structured via networks, corporate and state hierarchies, systems of association and interpersonal exchange, and ecologies of public, private, and nonprofit organizations. Topics include the rise and fall of the mass production corporation; the role of unions, ethnic enclaves, and employment networks in allocating resources; the effects of civil rights law on corporate practices; how the state, the law, and neighborhood associations shape segregation, housing market dynamics, and the differential accumulation of wealth; the nature of and transformations in the welfare state; and the role of nonprofit enterprise and small business formation in shaping the fates of African Americans and other groups. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2015—16.

Sociology 251 - Inequality and Social Mobility

Full course for one semester. This course examines how income and wealth structure opportunities within and across generations. We will begin by considering how the sociological concept of class can be used to distinguish social mobility from economic inequality. Course readings focus on recent trends in inequality, how the U.S. compares to other countries, and how different social environments (such as colleges, neighborhoods, and families) influence life chances. Students will learn about the challenges in producing research about these topics while critically engaging academic scholarship, public commentary, and policy proposals.  Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

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 316 - Sociology of the Family

Full course for one semester. Families are the first institutions individuals encounter and remain important social contexts throughout our lives. This course will consider the theoretical foundations that make “family background” a key indicator of outcomes such as health, religion, occupation, and education. We will examine changing norms about family structure and household composition, demographic trends in marriage and childbirth, and how race and class are associated with different parenting styles. We will also discuss emerging issues in family studies, such as multigenerational ties, incarceration and the prevalence of single parenthood, same-sex parenting, and connections between economic insecurity and household instability. The goal of the course is to develop a critical perspective of social debates and cultural representations related to family and kinship. 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.

Not offered 2015—16.

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.

Sociology 331 - Risk and the Body

Full course for one semester. Health risks appear to be everywhere—lodged in your supermarket cart, floating in the air and water, ceaseless on the news, lurking in the pharmacy and doctor’s office, and even in your genes. This course interrogates the nature and regulation of health risk through the lenses of medical and environmental sociology. We’ll begin with basic theories of risk, asking how modern technologies have changed the nature of risk and the way individuals perceive it, how experts build and influence our concepts of risk, and why—at different times and places—societies have responded to health risks with panics, public regulation, and narratives of individual responsibility. We will then cover a variety of empirical topics, including the development and contestation of medical orthodoxy, the frantic efforts of modern consumers to achieve quarantine through the shopping cart, public fears about toxins in food and the environment, the breast cancer awareness movement (and industry), and the political organization of responsibility for risk regulation. Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

Sociology 332 - The Sociology of Education

Full course for one semester. This course will critically examine the role of schools and schooling in society, covering key theoretical and empirical approaches employed by sociologists of education. Issues to be discussed include the structure and organization of schools, stratification processes within and between schools, family/school relationships, and the outcomes of education. We will discuss various perspectives on the relationship between individual social background and educational outcomes. Specifically, we will discuss the ways in which schooling both supports and interrupts the reproduction of social inequality. We will use these theoretical foundations to consider contemporary issues in education, including racial disparities in access and outcomes, high-stakes accountability, and school choice. 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.

Not offered 2015—16.

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 2015—16.

Sociology 342 - Global Governance

Full course for one semester.  This course is an introduction to global governance: the construction and enforcement of rules across national borders. We will explore the (often contentious) processes by which international norms are developed and institutionalized; how global inequalities in power and resources shape the content and diffusion of those rules; whether and how it is possible for international norms and actors to influence the policies of sovereign states; which actors exercise power in global governance; and how the complex system of public, private, legal, and quasi-legal rules that link actors across most of the world’s states is structured. The course will largely be structured around the three major approaches to international relations: realist/world systems, constructivist/world polity, and rationalist/institutionalist. Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

Not offered 2015—16.

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 2015—16.

Sociology 351 - Financialization and the Sociology of Finance

Full course for one semester. Economic and social life now pivot around finance to an astonishing extent, leading one recent observer to suggest that we have experienced a Copernican revolution in which financial markets and logics of portfolio management have displaced corporations, communities, and governments as the center around which everything orbits. This course focuses on institutional, organizational, and social structures of the contemporary financial system. It traces the evolution of the financial system since the New Deal settlements, including “deregulation,” securitization, and the growing reliance on mathematical modeling. It tracks the changing role and significance of the financial system within capitalist societies, examining the sources and impact of the crisis. And it considers the historical, present, and future role of small, more locally rooted and decentralized alternatives to Wall Street, too-big-to-fail institutions, and money center banking. Prerequisite: Sociology 211.

Not offered 2015—16.

Sociology 356 - Environmental Sociology

Full course for one semester.  This course is an exploration of major themes in the sociology of the environment, structured largely around case studies of places, regulatory efforts, and policy debates. It will cover the emergence of the modern environmental movement and development of both corporate and state-led responses; the politics of waste management and inequality in exposures to environmental hazards; the role and potential of market-based environmental regulation, including green certifications and production; the social construction of environmental risk and responsibility; and the politics of energy production. The course will draw from theoretical frameworks unique to environmental sociology (political ecology, ecological modernization) and from political and economic sociology. Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

Not offered 2015—16.

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 2015—16.

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.

Sociology 367 - The Politics of Knowledge

Full course for one semester. How are authoritative accounts of the political world constructed, shared, and believed? This course engages this question by examining the politics of knowledge and knowledge of politics. We will study the role of political ideologies in shaping individual consciousness, how political acquiescence is built and the conditions under which it can be disrupted, why the structure of the American state might breed antistatist politics, how both old and new media mold political consciousness, how individuals adjust or strengthen beliefs in response to new information, and how daily experience organizes our perceptions of truth and reality. The course will draw heavily on both political sociology and the sociology of knowledge. Prerequisite: Sociology 211. Conference.

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.

Not offered 2015—16.

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.

Not offered 2015—16.

Sociology 401 - Institutional Analysis

Full course for one semester. This is an advanced treatment of the theory and empirical practices of institutional analysis in sociology and related fields. The course focuses first on structure, treating institutions and fields as contextual determinants of action, and identifying the different mechanisms by which institutions promote order, stability, and distinctive patterns of organization, behavior, economic development, and public policy. Topics covered include path dependence and “lock in,” isomorphism, structure-induced equilibrium, institutional logics and contingency, diffusion, and institutionalization. The course then focuses on agency and action, tackling the thorny issue of how to explain change without abandoning the contextual insights of earlier formulations. Topics covered include punctuated equilibria vs. evolutionary change, deinstitutionalization, processes of transposition, theorization and recombination, endogenous change dynamics, institutional entrepreneurship, and the relationships between social movements and institutional fields. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 and one upper-division course in sociology. Conference.

Not offered 2015—16.

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.