Reed College Catalog

Alexandra Hrycak

Social movements, political sociology.

Marc Schneiberg

Economic sociology, organizations, institutional analysis.

Kjersten Bunker Whittington

Science and technology, gender, work and organizations, social networks.

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, educated citizens should have a critical understanding of what social science research does to, for, and about them. 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 231 - Organizations

Full course for one semester. This course provides a broad introduction to the analysis of organizations in sociology and related fields. Organizations are a ubiquitous feature of social, economic, and political life, and involve a striking variety of cases, ranging from corporations, community nonprofits, and state welfare providers to firefighting teams, symphony orchestras, hospitals, rape crisis centers, and universities. They represent social sites in which we spend a substantial proportion of our daily lives, profoundly shaping opportunity, power, identity, and everyday interactions both within their boundaries and in the broader society. We address variation and change in the nature of organizations, and the consequences of organizational structure and form for how organizations operate, what and who individuals and groups can and cannot do or become, and how societies evolve. Topics include organizational types and forms (e.g., hierarchical vs. network; corporations, nonprofits, cooperatives; standing vs. temporary organizations); organizations and power; organizational ecologies or systems; organizations, inequality, and social stratification; organizations and community; and organizations, mobilization, and social movements. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2017–18.

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 2017–18.

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.

Not offered 2017–18.

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 2017–18.

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 320 - Feminisms: Comparative Perspectives on Women’s Activism

Full course for one semester. This course examines feminisms, the diversity of feminist movements that have come into existence in the last four decades. We proceed through a review of classical and contemporary theories and case studies, placing particular emphasis on feminist critiques of violence and/or feminist attempts to raise issues of diversity (e.g., bell hooks, Catharine MacKinnon, Dorothy Smith, Patricia Hill Collins). We will examine how feminism emerged as a movement and how it has changed as it moves across borders and generations. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2017–18.

Sociology 326 - Science and Social Difference

Full course for one semester. Is race biological? Do men and women have different brains? Categories such as race and gender are often presumed to be socially constructed classifications linked to difference. At the same time, references to scientific claims that prioritize the biological underpinnings of behavior and outcomes are common. This raises questions about the role of biology in determining differences between men and women, among racial/ethnic groups, and regarding sexuality, and how these ideas relate to the design of science policy and practice. Considering a series of contemporary cases, students in this course will examine the reciprocal relationships between scientific inquiry, science politics, social identity, and belonging. The course does not attempt to resolve these often contentious topics, but rather focuses on the processes by which ideas about difference are transmitted to students of science and the public; how social groups and identities are taken into account in science research, technological design, and clinical studies; who gets to “do science”; and the people and groups invested in the outcomes. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. 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.

Not offered 2017–18.

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 2017–18.

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.

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 2017–18.

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. Conference.

Sociology 355 - Economic Sociology

Full course for one semester. This course provides a rigorous introduction to the burgeoning sociological literature on the social structure of markets and economic activity in capitalist and other market societies. Its core problem is to identify the ways in which rational, economic action and exchange are embedded within, and facilitated, modified, or impeded by, collective commitments and social institutions. We address how variation and change in the social and institutional structures of economic life are produced, and the consequences for cooperation, rationality, justice, and economic development. In so doing, this course moves beyond conceptualizing economic organization as a dichotomous choice between unregulated markets at one polar extreme and state control at the other. And we address the possibilities for an extended dialogue between economic sociology and the new institutional economics. Topics include contracts, networks, associations, and hierarchies as core social structures of economic life; the social and political construction of markets and industries; cooperative alternatives to the corporation; the role of culture, power, and identity in private enterprise; states and market failure; the rise and fall of mass production; cross-national variation in the organization of capitalism; and globalization. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 and one upper-division course in sociology. Conference.

Not offered 2017–18.

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 380 - Networks and Social Structure

Full course for one semester. Social network dynamics influence phenomena within communities, neighborhoods, families, work life, scientific and technical innovation, terrorism, trade, alliances, and wars.  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 includes a focus 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, the organization of movement and belief systems, conflict and cooperation, and strategic interaction.  This course couples theoretical and substantive themes with methodological applications. Approximately one-third of course time is spent on the methodology of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting social network data. Prerequisites for sociology credit: Sociology 211; for political science credit: Political Science 240 and one upper-level international relations course. Conference. Cross-listed as Political Science 310.

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.

Sociology 431 - Advanced Topics in Organizational Analysis

Full course for one semester. This course provides an advanced and in-depth treatment of selected topics in the analysis of organizations in sociology and related fields. Organizations are omnipresent in “modern” settings and a potent structuring force in social, economic, and political life. They shape, among other things, our capacities to innovate in economic and cultural production, mobilize collectively and politically, and create material and symbolic goods. They influence whether and how members of different groups get ahead and gain access to critical resources and services, and whether and how communities sustain their vitality in the face of catastrophes and profound change. They are intimately related to whether and how we can collaborate and adapt effectively to get work done, especially under uncertain, precarious, and rapidly changing conditions. And they build relationships with each other, sometimes coming together into systems or ecologies that profoundly shape the trajectories of industries, regions, and national politics. In these and other ways, organizations provide a wealth of possibilities for sustained inquiry in an advanced topics course. The specific topics covered in this course will vary, and may include a focus on organizational types and forms; profit and nonprofit organization; regional economies and innovation; social movement dynamics; networks and the social structure of organizations; race, class, and gender; and key developments in organizational theory. This course may be repeated once for credit when the topic changes. Sociology 231 is recommended but not required. Prerequisite: Sociology 211 or consent of the instructor. Conference.

Not offered 2017–18.

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.