Sociology Department: Goals and Objectives
Sociology at Vassar is taught by a diverse faculty, which brings to the classroom a range of backgrounds and research interests. In varying degrees, the guiding precepts of social structure and social construction are often integral to an otherwise wide-ranging set of concerns. On the one hand, the distribution of wealth, power, and prestige significantly shapes and channels patterns of human behavior. As such, "social structure" is central to the sociological analysis of human institutions, relationships, and communities. On the other hand, it is precisely the "social construction" of human meaning, including the importance of local knowledge and situationally nuanced outcomes, that is integral to an understanding of human action and agency. Nevertheless, we live in a complex world in which particular social structures can enable and foster social change just as socially constructed meanings can inhibit and constrain possibilities. In brief, there is no simple formula or set of methods that can easily describe a sociological analysis that takes as its subject matter the wide range of courses that constitute our curriculum. All told, it is the students' exposure to those who practice sociology that enables them to learn to see the world from a sociological perspective and to acquire not only insight and critical awareness, but a passion for social justice.
Toward this end, the department offers a variety of courses that might appeal to students with diverse interests. Our 100-level introductory course, rooted in the classical tradition in sociology, demonstrates ways in which seminal ideas of 19th century sociologists can be applied to contemporary topics and issues. Our 200-level courses address key social institutions (e.g. Mass Media, Family, Welfare, the New Economy) and contemporary issues (e.g. Crime, Drugs, Domestic Violence, Ethnicity, Disability, Globalization, Development and Social Change). At the 300-level, some non-majors may choose to pursue more focused and in-depth study of particular topics that build on their work in intermediate-level courses.
In addition to the breadth and depth that the required and elective courses provide, the thesis allows majors to "do" sociology through a project that they undertake with the approval of the department and the guidance of their first and second readers. Ideally this project serves as an intellectual culmination that allows our majors to bring together elements of their sociological experience at Vassar into a coherent document that they can call their own. The thesis process formally begins with a written proposal, read and commented on by all members of the department in early October. Primarily under the guidance of their first reader, students must submit a series of drafts, including a complete rough draft (due mid February) and a final draft (due in mid April). The final draft is read by both first and second readers, who jointly decide on a letter grade. The first reader is expected to provide the student with written comments that include not only a summary of any criticisms, but also a discussion of the merits and contribution of the work. All senior sociology theses are archived in the department office and will remain on file as an enduring record of a student's final work for the department.