Areas of Study

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The Department of Sociology has five core areas of graduate teaching and faculty expertise.

Gender and Feminist Studies

Gender and Feminist Studies emphasizes a critical analysis of basic assumptions within sociology and feminist theory about the matrix of gender, class and race. It investigates structural inequalities and the reproduction of those hierarchies in social processes and in everyday life, and even examines the ways that gender itself is constructed.

In the process, the program analyzes the various contradictory and overlapping ways feminists with different theoretical starting points investigate and explain social phenomena. In addition to the theoretical explorations and empirical analyses of the family, work and other institutions, the program attends to the collective action of women and the contributions of individual women to the sociological discipline, to political movements and to the making of history.

Because of its flexibility and ecumenical approach to sociology, the graduate program has long been an incubator for innovative and path-breaking work. It has proven to be a fruitful place for students interested in feminist scholarship.

The program connects to the Women's and Gender Studies Program through faculty, courses that are cross-listed and the joint sociology and women's and gender studies master's degree program.

There is a critical mass of feminist scholarship in the Boston area. Therefore, Brandeis graduate students have access to a number of outside colloquia, courses, teaching and research opportunities in the field of gender and feminist studies.

Medical Sociology

The sociological study of health, illness and medicine is a vibrant part of the graduate and undergraduate curriculum. Courses examine the production of disease and the cultural meanings of illness, the social organization of the medical care system, the impact of science and technology upon health, the social meanings of genetics and new conceptualizations of the body and health. Related courses are offered on the sociology of aging, birth and death. Study of medical anthropology and health policy are available in cognate departments.

Politics and Social Change

Political sociology in the broadest sense is the study of political power, comparative institutions and social structures, social movements, community organizations and civic associations, economic sociology and political economy, and the sociology of development. Economic, social and cultural globalization is creating unprecedented new links between different and formerly distant peoples, and changes the relationships between nations, regions, states and societies, individuals and communities, rich and poor, men and women. It challenges and changes identities and meanings, hierarchical structures and the vocabularies of power.

The Politics and Social Change area of study examines these phenomena from a variety of angles, ranging from community organizing and social movements in the United States to comparative European politics and globalization on a world scale.

Our program is interlinked with other programs in the politics department (comparative politics, international political economy, international relations), the Heller School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare  (Sustainable International Development), history and anthropology. Students are also encouraged to take advantage of the many resources in complementary programs and centers in the Boston area (Harvard's Center for European Studies, the Kennedy School, MIT, Boston College, Boston University, Tufts and Northeastern).

Culture and Religion

The sociology of culture and religion is a central part of the graduate program both generally and as linked to the joint Ph.D. program in sociology and Near Eastern and Judaic studies. Several sociology department faculty members teach courses in the sociology of religion and the sociology of culture, and numerous graduate students are conducting independent research on these topics in the department and with the support of related centers on campus.

Courses conceive of culture as central to the study of mass media, material culture, everyday life, subcultures, collective action and the numerous ways religion is present around the globe. Course offerings in sociology are complemented by those in anthropology, the Cultural Production M.A. program and Near Eastern and Judaic studies.

Theory and Methods

The department's long tradition of classical European theory and qualitative research methods has been deepened and renovated over the years since Everett Hughes, Kurt Wolff, Lewis Coser and Egon Bittner gave them their distinctive stamp. Theoretical training includes classical, feminist, critical, postmodern, psychoanalytic, existential, democratic, French and German social theory.

Methodological training includes a variety of methods, especially field methods and ethnography, for which many of our published dissertations are especially well known, as well as comparative, historical and quantitative methods. Theoretical and methodological rigor have been accompanied, in the work of many students and faculty, with active engagement in community and institutional renewal, and with building peace, civil rights, social justice, feminist, labor, women's health, disability rights and independent living movements.

Graduate training in theory and research methods is sustained through the Approaches to Social Research course all Ph.D. students are required to take in their first three years in the program. Taught collaboratively, this course aims to train students to be better consumers and producers of sociological knowledge.