Sociology

Majoring

Declaring a Major
Requirements of a Sociology Major
Junior Qualifying Exam

Declaring a Major

Students must declare a major by the end of the sophomore year. Students are granted upperclass status once they have declared a major and completed at least thirteen units of course work at Reed or elsewhere. The Declaration of Major form is available from the Registrar (Eliot 311). This must be signed by a faculty member in sociology and promptly returned to the Registrar.

Requirements of a Sociology Major

The department's requirements begin with an introductory course, and proceed through the Junior qualifying examination, a research methods course, a year long thesis course, and a total of five additional units of sociology. Students have long been encouraged to supplement their coursework with additional work in statistical techniques. According to the Catalogue, majors must fulfill the following requirements, exclusive of work needed to meet general college and divisional requirements:

  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.

Junior Qualifying Exam

The junior qualifying examination is normally undertaken over the course of the second term of junior year, while juniors are enrolled in Sociology 311, Research Methods, and Sociology 390, Junior Research Colloquium. Sociology 311 (offered in the Spring) is a required class that introduces students to many of the methodological skills they may find themselves undertaking in their senior thesis. Sociology 390 prepares students for conducting sociological research in the junior qualifying exam, senior thesis, and beyond. The Junior qualifying exam complements the curriculum by taking students through an in-depth comparison of the contributions made by two contemporary sociologists in an area of substantive interest to the student. The objective is for students to learn how contemporary sociologists identify, analyze, and formulate questions, respond to contributions made by prior scholarship, construct empirical research projects, and use findings to engage ongoing debates. An ideal author pairing considers a particular topic that the authors approach from different theoretical foundations, and/or research methodologies or types of data, and/or with different conclusions about factors, dynamics, and/or mechanisms responsible for a given phenomenon. This format gives the Department the opportunity to assess how well students are able to explore literature in a sociological subfield and for students to become familiar with the continuity of theoretically-motivated empirical research in that scholarly community. 

Students work closely with faculty to select their qual topic and choice of authors. Students must avoid selecting purely descriptive, a-theoretical studies, and are expected to consider several titles in their area of general interest before making a final choice on a pair. The majority of students choose to review two research monographs. A few Juniors take the option of comparing a research monograph written by one sociologist to four articles another sociologist has published in top journals. We recommend that students use this examination as an opportunity to learn more about the field in which they hope to undertake in senior thesis work. The target length of a qual essay is 25 pages.

The department's Junior Qual Guide contains advice for majors about writing a qual, a description of the overall process of writing and a list of required steps and deadlines. Juniors are given detailed instructions, guidance and feedback both in Sociology 390 and/or by department faculty during the first half of the Spring semester. Additional consultations are also held between faculty and individual Juniors to discuss the process of narrowing down a sub-field’s literature and choosing an appropriate pair of researchers. 

The general trajectory of the qual process is as follows:

  • Introductory and orientation meetings: At initial meetings, faculty discuss how to start the qual process. Juniors receive a list of recommended qual pairings, which is also posted to the departmental website. Students are instructed to use their qual to conduct research on an issue, theme, or what French sociologist Emile Durkheim called a “social fact” - some pattern in social relations that represents a configuration of values, cultural norms, and social structures that transcends the individual and exercises social control. The Department recommends that students consider grounding their investigation within an upper division Sociology class by selecting a prominent sociologist who examines their social fact using a well-developed theoretical framework and a coherent research method. They also are directed to consult their course syllabi and meet with individual faculty after reviewing the Junior Qual Guide, which provides a detailed outline and description of each section of the qual.

  • Discussion of social fact and first author choices: After conducting initial review, we ask each student to report on their progress on selecting a social fact alongside a first author who serves as their anchor or foundation. At this stage, students have selected a social fact and are fairly certain of the monographs they would like to read. Students discuss their selection process and describe the list of monographs they are considering. Students receive extensive feedback from faculty, who suggest potential pairings for each student. Faculty may also suggest that students follow up by meeting with individual faculty members to finalize their first author choice and start the process of finding a second author.

  • Discussion of second author choices: After choosing their first author, students identify the main sociological perspective/paradigm(s) associated with their social fact, and present their second author. Students may meet in a thematic subgroup coordinated by a faculty member. By this time, each Junior is encouraged to have narrowed down their social fact to a topic/question and started to engage with reading and taking notes on their first monograph.

  • Finalizing analytical approaches and other details: In this final stage and before the qual due date, students discuss the key components of the qual structure and key concepts mobilized by their author-pair. Students finish reading and taking notes or their second author, and are encouraged to construct concept maps of core ideas or issues their authors explore. Students are encouraged to refer back to their written notes, and often to canonical reading from related courses to aid them in placing their topic area within a debate or discussion in the literature. We encourage expression in their own words of the author’s core concepts, and that student provide definition of terms, even if they are common everyday words (e.g. “racial identity”). Students are also expected to be able to express in their own words how their first author engages in understanding these concepts and their meaning for social relations, with an eye toward a comparative framework that can incorporate views from the second author. 

At this stage, the student's next step is to start working on writing up the particular parts of the qual outline. They may wish to wait to write the introduction and conclusion until they have fully developed their ideas about the more specific conversations initiated by readers of the two sociologists they are assessing for their qual. Students are urged to use the department’s Junior Qual Guide to plan their work and remind them that it provides all the points or ideas they will need to include.

Junior Qual Assessment

A “conditional pass” typically occurs when a student does not include required sections of the qual, or when the written product proves to be lacking in displaying sufficient understanding of the arguments, debates, or focus of their qual readings. A conditional pass may also be given if the quality of the writing and argumentation is sufficiently lacking and in need of focused treatment. Students who pass conditionally meet in person with a designated faculty member who provides extensive written and verbal feedback on the steps needed to produce an appropriate qualifying examination essay (and with reference to the checklist on the Junior Qual Guide). Students who fail to turn in an appropriate revision will be expected to undertake remedial work on the topic of their proposed thesis, or to retake the exam altogether. This might involve critically analyzing several published articles on a topic related to their qual, and writing a literature review essay by August 1 of the summer preceding their senior year.