Sociology Courses Offered

The selection of courses offered by the ECU Sociology Department is broad and dynamic. New courses are regularly developed, and in some cases old ones are altered or dropped. The descriptive list below reflects the current set of courses taught by the department.

Some courses, like SOC 1113 (Intro) and SOC 2113 (Social Problems), are open every semester. Other required courses are offered on a consistent schedule: SOC 3413 (Theory) every Fall semester, SOC 4813 (Methods) every Spring, and SOC 3833 (Statistics) in both Spring and Fall.

The frequency with which other courses are offered is up to the individual instructor, but we try to schedule so that students can fit in each desired course at some point during their time at ECU. Also, we pay attention to the popularity of a course, and offer more popular ones with greater frequency.

In some ways, human institutions are similar across cultures. For instance, virtually every society known has some sort of marriage institution, and the function of marriage remains largely the same. At the same time, exactly how institutions turn out varies tremendously from one society to another. Such cultural variation can be understood as being shaped, at least in part, by the limitations imposed by the natural and social environment. An important tool for understanding of the origin and function of cultures is comparing them. Such a technique not only helps us comprehend the reason for differences - it lays out the range of human possibilities and reminds us that our way is not the only way. This course is cross-listed with the Geography Department.

There is a psychology to social behavior, and a sociology that can be connected to psychological processes. The human mind is capable of carrying out a great variety of thoughts and behaviors, and yet there are some predictable tendencies that influence how we interact socially. On the other hand, the group can influence how we perceive and react, a noxious environment can make us treat close friends like enemies, our position in the social structure has consequences for self esteem. This course is cross-listed with the Psychology Department because Social Psychology represents that nexus where Psychology and Sociology cross into each others boarders - and when you think about it, they should.

A common-sense understanding of social behavior tends to focus upon individuals and their motives and flaws. Not so with a sociological perspective which, when acquired, allows us to see the same old world in an entirely new light. Beyond this "sociological imagination," sociology is about the special methods used by sociologists to tap into social reality, and the facts and explanations this research reveals. How is society made, what keeps it stable, how does it change, why does it go wrong? In a survey course, we keep it broad and interesting - the novice gets a taste of a large smorgasbord of sociological topics, the exact nature of which is somewhat dependent on the specialties and interests of the instructor.

What is the world coming to? Everyone has the perfect solution - if only everyone else would listen! And yet these perfect solutions are often based on flawed understandings of what causes social problems. By relying on a scientific approach to investigate the origin and continuing cause of things like poverty, racism, war, crime, and drivers who don't use turn signals, Sociologists confidently offer explanations and solutions of their own. Of course, social problems are complex, even scientists can't agree on what exactly is going on, and solutions ultimately require a compromise between competing values.

Sociology can be used to study just about anything - yes, even sports! Careful, sports fans: this is a serious course that examines modern sports from the point of view of a sociologist. What sort of social functions do sports serve? How does our society impact the games, and how do they impact society? How are people socialized into the role of athlete? How does this role change from high school, to college, to pro? How are sports related to gender, ethnicity, and social class? What is the relationship between deviance and sport? Take this class - you’ll never watch a football game the same way again!

To a sociologist, religions are like any other organization: they are born, change over time, cope with the pressures of the outside world, and either survive or disintegrate. Similarly, like every other human institution, religion serves a function for society. There is a science of the sacred just as there is of the body or the Earth, and religion can be analyzed and understood from the perspective of social science. As it turns out, as religious societies go, America is far from typical. Our society's degree of devotion to religious ideas, if not to direct participation, make the US stand out among other first-world nations. Whether the student of American religion is a skeptical atheist or born-again evangelical, he or she is likely to gain an expanded perspective on the subject by studying the subjective topic of faith though an objective lens.

Whether we are talking about a hunter-gatherer tribe or a post industrial nation state, people are differentiated by biological sex, and social meaning is attached to the condition of being male or female. Are men and women naturally different, or do they just respond as society expects them to? By exploring historical and cross cultural variance in gender roles, their socially-constructed nature is revealed. On the other hand... how shall we explain the similarities we find alongside the differences? America is among the most sexually liberated modern societies, and yet social structures and cultural practices that reinforce gender inequalities persist. It is perhaps their subtlety and insidiousness that is most fascinating. While courses on gender typically lean toward feminist analyses, the topic can and should be approached from multiple perspectives, including the biological.

Sociology and Anthropology - especially Cultural Anthropology - are difficult to distinguish at first glance. Anthropologists often criticize the sociologist for being too much of a generalist - for making broad statements about how "society" is. The anthropologist might ask, "which society?" Sociology was born in (and of) the modern period, and modern society is typically our focus. But anthropologists might remind us that modern society is... modern! Most societies that have existed are not - as late as 1850 about 2/3 of the human population did not live in modern nation states. Surely we can learn at least as much about the human condition by studying it in its natural state. A fascinating dimension of the culture covered by cultural anthropology is linguistics: the study of the origins, evolution, and structure of language - as well as how language reflects and shapes the world of its users.

Before we can have human society we need human bodies and minds. Discoveries that shed new light on the origins of mankind are made regularly, and each one seems to complicate the current picture and suggest that humans - or something like them - have trod upon this Earth for a lot longer than once thought, perhaps as long as six or seven million years! Where and when did Homo sapiens first evolve, and how did the species spread from there? What can we tell about lifestyle and society from an old tooth? Why are men bigger than women? Which did we do first, think abstractly or walk? An understanding of society and social behavior lacks something until we gain insight into the origins of these things.

It is common for members of the sociology faculty and staff to develop and teach courses on special topics not otherwise listed with standard courses. This allows department members to experiment with new subjects or respond to student requests. Popular courses may be added to the regular curriculum.

It has been observed that the category of "child" has only recently been recognized in Western civilization. During the ancient and medieval periods, children were often seen as little more than miniature (and powerless) adults, not entitled to the special protection of the state. Today, "child" remains a "master status" with important consequences for the individual, but we have managed to (for the most part) distinguish the juvenile delinquent from the adult criminal. This is to a large degree due to the nature of modern society, a society in which children are no longer subjected to traditional, informal means of social control. The official options for dealing with delinquents today are somewhat different from those used to formally control adults, and yet the theories we use to understand the misbehavior of children are very similar.

The very existence of ethnic groups indicates the presence of social barriers. If we have abandoned, as we should, the crude notion of racial inferiority/ superiority, we are left with important questions: To what degree do different ethnic groups have differential access to resources in society? What is the cause of this inequality? What can be done to address the problem of ethnic stratification, and prejudice itself? An examination of the social-psychological processes underlying prejudice and stereotyping, and of macro-level factors such as group conflict and history, are necessary for an understanding of the complex relationships between majority and minority groups.

An understanding of Japan - a society that is modern, Eastern, and partly Westernized - teaches us a great deal about American society. The goal of this course is not primarily to learn about Japan, but to understand modern society by comparing the history, culture, and institutions of Japan to those of the United States. As it turns out, there is more than one way to be modern. While the Japanese have special problems of their own, they have adapted remarkably to the challenges of an uncertain future, and continue to do so. While "Nipophiles" (Japan lovers) will enjoy learning about the intricacies and hidden surprises of Japanese culture, any serious student of society (or history) should get a great deal from this course, which has traditionally been taught by Akiko Yoshida, a native of Japan.

The family is one of the oldest and most basic human institutions, and thus we should expect that its functions for society are among the most basic. These functions obtain, even though marriage types range from non-existent to complicated sorts of polygamy. As with many other social institutions, the form marriage and family takes reflects the nature of society generally. Given that the United States has the highest divorce rate in the world, what does this tell us about our own society? Clearly, marriage and family has taken a hit from the processes of modernity. Here in America, we claim that family is our most important value, while at the same time acknowledging the family as institution is in dire straights. Understanding the importance of marriage and family for a healthy society may be a crucial step in the right direction, especially when we remember that, after all, family is where all of us start.

There's nothing so practical as a good theory, and those who ignore the importance of theory are doomed to be the victims of someone else's. Often we forget the degree to which our thought and behavior is based upon assumptions and explanations about how the world works - these explanations are theories, whether scientific or otherwise. Sociological theory is diverse, reflecting the breadth of the discipline itself. Classical theory tends to focus on this thing we call modernity: why did it happen, what are its consequences, and where is it going? Contemporary theory to some extent carries on the classical torch, but also expands in bold and peculiar directions. Some theories are winners, explaining much and living well beyond their time. Others are tools of ideologues, or just not very useful, and meet their well-deserved demise. In studying theory, the point is to separate wheat from chaff and find common patterns in a theoretical maze that has developed to explain a rather large and complex phenomenon - society.

Except (perhaps) for the earliest and most "primitive," all human societies have had it: inequality. Stratification can be based on a great variety of things: wealth, ethnic status, who has the biggest totem pole, etc. Whether it's aristocracy over serfs, or tycoons over workers, from the dawn of civilization, it seems that some labor while others manage to reap the benefits of this labor. Shall we accept this state of affairs as natural, or investigate the origins and stability of inequality? The first step towards a more just and humane way of life is a complex understanding of the social forces that hold us back.

Along with dolphins and pygmy chimps, human beings are among the most sexual species in the animal kingdom. Clearly, for us, sex is about much more than reproduction (or else we'd only have it during the monthly window of female fertility). Our intense drive for sex, alongside cultural rules (re: appropriate sexual behavior) produces a fascinating menagerie of possibilities. It is interesting to see this impact that cultural rules, across societies, can have. For instance, in our society, homosexuality is frowned upon and, until recently, in some states illegal. In other societies it is a non-issue, and in still others it is mandatory and ritualized (for part of one's life). The ECU Sociology Department's course on human sexuality is part sex-ed, part biology, part sociological analysis, and always very popular. In spite of frequent student requests, there is no "lab" for this course - though you are always welcome to make up your own "homework" assignments...

It is easy to argue that a relationship between social variables (e.g., education and income) exists, and much harder to prove it. That's where the math comes in. Statistics are not just meaningless numbers, but tried and true representations of social reality, complete with numerical indications of their accuracy. I.e., we can not only tell you how strong an observed relationship is, but how confident we are that it actually exists. At the same time, statistics are imperfect representations of something - society - that is very complex. The goal is to understand both the strengths and limitations of statistical measures. A good understanding helps us get past the "fuzzy math" and find a real connection between the numbers and what they hope to represent.

Utopia literally means "nowhere" - i.e., a society that doesn't, and perhaps can't, exist. This may be true, since what is perfect for me may not be perfect for you. At the same time, we recognize that there is a wide range of agreement that certain societies (e.g. democracies) are better than others (e.g. dictatorships). Since at least Plato, thinkers have offered their visions of utopia. Shall we advocate a Marxist vision without classes and coercive power, or Huxley's "Brave New World" of rigidly divided and specialized social layers? These proposed utopias, like any other social forms, can be analyzed and critiqued. What is possible in the real world? What are the consequences of particular kinds of social organization? What is your Utopia?

A sociology of deviance is at times voyeuristic, peering into the secret world of "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." While such peculiarities are intriguing, the real goal is, as always, understanding the complex origins of both deviance and social control, the flip-side of deviance. No objective act of deviance is possible without subjective audiences defining, witnessing, and reacting to deviant actors. Some rules are written in stone, it's true, but none are written in the sky. It is society that determines what is good and evil, right and wrong, condemnable and commendable. At the same time, if we start by taking for granted definitions of deviance, it is possible to conduct research and construct theory that explain why people often fly in the face of societal expectations.

We often forget that, when it comes right down to it, we are as much members of a human "herd" as we are individuals. To the individual, his or her decisions are based on a complex set of factors. To the demographer, the decisions of masses of individuals seem to follow predictable patterns. By knowing average characteristics of aggregates, it is possible to predict social actions of aggregates and individuals. For instance, we know that, the more the women in a society are educated, the lower the birth rate... the higher the proportion of old people, the lower the crime rate. Population movement is another interest for the demographer: what forces influence migration, and what are the outcomes of an exodus for all parties involved?

Colin Turnbull, a leading cultural anthropologist who has intimately studied indigenous peoples, teamed up with theater faculty from George Washington University to construct a unique course. In this course, students would be allowed to act out scenarios from traditional societies, effectively putting themselves in the shoes of the members of these societies. Such empathetic understanding, called the "emic" (insider's view), has for some time been the goal of anthropology. ECU's Anthropology and Theater course, instructed by Rich Alford, is based on Turnbull's original idea. The class is limited to twelve serious students, and eager participation in exercises is essential to the success of this course. In addition to role-playing, students read three books on the (three) cultures in question, and keep journals. Your enrollment in this course must be personally approved by the instructor.

Sociology has often been referred to as a "soft science." The implication is that sociology is not a "real" science because it does not use microscopes and spectrophotometers to execute research. In fact, the social sciences are probably more dedicated to rigorous methods because their subject is so difficult to study in a traditional manner. The result is the sociologists' uncanny ability to find weaknesses in research designs and conclusions - in effect, a "black belt" in critical methods, directly applicable to the analysis of findings presented in popular and scientific publications. It is not enough to present a "scientific" conclusion, says the sociologist - you must prove said conclusion was arrived at in a scientific manner. Of course, the primary purpose of a methods course is to teach the budding social scientist how to conduct sound research. Coupled with a solid statistics background (SOC 3833, a prerequisite for this course), the completion of a methods course equips the sociologist with the tools he or she needs to carry out a wide variety of research relating to human behavior and society - a very marketable skill.

It is common for members of the sociology faculty and staff to develop and teach seminars on special topics not otherwise listed with standard courses. This allows department members to experiment with new subjects or respond to student requests. Examples of courses that have been offered over the last several years include Serial Killers, Social Change, Urban Sociology, Drugs and Society, Death and Dying, and Sociology through Film. Popular courses may be added to the regular curriculum.

Subject to approval, highly motivated and mature students can work with a faculty member on an individual basis, essentially creating a customized elective. A contract describing the content, and evaluation criteria, of the course must be written up and approved by the professor, department head, and dean. Individual study is not suggested, except under special circumstances (student has special interest in a topic not normally available, student is unable to attend regular courses, etc.). It is essential that the student be responsible for keeping up with required work and maintaining regular contact with the faculty member.