Sociology at Bates

“Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both… The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two in society.” C. Wright Mills, 1959

“It is through the illusion of freedom from social determinants… that social determinants win the freedom to exercise their full power… And so, paradoxically, sociology frees us by freeing us from the illusion of freedom.” Pierre Bourdieu, 1990

C. Wright Mills has offered one of the most succinct and often-quoted descriptions of sociology in his 1959 book, The Sociological Imagination. According to Mills, the promise of sociology lies in its unique insistence on recognizing both biography and history resisting the temptation to view individual biography outside of social and historical context, but also resisting the temptation to analyze social and historical context without recognizing its “meaning for the inner life and external career of a variety of individuals” (Mills, 1959). Bourdieu echoes a related theme in his 1990 book, In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology (translated by Matthew Adamson). He highlights sociology’s potential for challenging social determinants by recognizing and analyzing them, a point with clear implications not only for understanding society but also for social action and social change.

These two quotes capture key aspects of a sociological perspective, and it is this perspective that the curriculum in sociology at Bates is designed to help students explore. Core courses for the major in sociology focus on developing the skills and tools necessary for the application of a sociological perspective to a broad array of social phenomena, while the electives allow students to explore many of the specific topics and issues that sociologists study. While the core courses provide crucially important tools for the development and application of the sociological imagination, most students are drawn to the discipline by interest in one or more of its many substantive subfields.

The various substantive areas of sociology addressed within the Department’s curriculum represent the teaching and research specialties of its faculty. These include race, class, gender, criminology, health, urbanization, immigration, political sociology, and economic sociology. Many majors in sociology select courses that cut across these areas, but some students prefer to focus primarily on one area. In addition, majors explore topics beyond the specific interests of the faculty. This, too, is welcome and supported.