Subject Overview

Sociology is the study of society. It tries to reveal the ways in which people are shaped by their societies. For instance, what has changed fundamentally since the advent of the internet? How has the internet changed friendship patterns, political participation, health, employment, gender stereotypes, corruption, and so on? How do these changes compare with other big changes in recent history, such as revolutions in industry or transport? And how will future technological changes, such as intelligent robots, cloning or mass surveillance, change the nature of society?

Many people applying to study Sociology at university think that they haven’t studied Sociology before. They probably have! Sociology - more than any other social science discipline - boasts overlaps with subjects such as history, human geography, politics, theology, economics, social psychology, English literature, demography, journalism and many others.

There are several things that make sociology distinctive from other approaches to studying society. Sociologists take great care in the way they go about their research in order to be systematic and aware of the biases that might affect them as individuals and their research. For instance, as opinion pollsters know only too well, asking a question in a slightly different way can have a big influence on the way people respond.

Sometimes sociologists can achieve precision through the use of statistics and new mathematical techniques for understanding phenomena such as social media. Sometimes sociologists can better understand people and situations by thinking carefully about meanings without trying to attach numbers to them. Sociologists don’t have one best way of studying societies, but pride themselves on flexibility, adapting their research methods to suit the puzzle they are trying to solve. Sometimes sociologists are trying to understand large-scale social systems, for instance comparing capitalism with other social and economic systems. Other times, sociologists focus on changes in intimate relationships, for instance the changing importance of class and caste with the introduction of internet dating. Bringing these different levels of analysis together can be both challenging and exciting.

Studying Sociology teaches you that things are rarely as they first appear. Sociologists like trying to peel away the things we take for granted and using the ‘sociological imagination’ to see familiar situations in new, unfamiliar ways. This, hopefully, will also lead to new ideas for solutions to difficulties that may have seemed insoluble. Sociology also draws upon a history of great thinkers who have proposed radically different ways of understanding the world. No one of these big theories is entirely satisfactory, and of course the world keeps changing, but Sociologists value the ability to understand and use ‘big ideas’ from Sociology or other social sciences to suggest perspectives on the social world.

In my experience, students rarely study Sociology because they think that the world is great just the way it is. Sometimes they study Sociology because they have an insatiable curiosity for the way the world shapes people, and also for the ways people shape their own lives and the lives of those around them. But a driving reason for studying sociology is that the world could be a better place, and we need to understand more about how it works before we start to think of ways to change it. If thinking about war, riots, inequality, racism, unemployment and the refugee crisis don’t just make you curious but also make you angry, then Sociology could well be the subject for you.

To be honest, probably few people study Sociology because they think that it’s the easiest pathway to get a lucrative job and get rich. Yet we know that Sociology students from research-intensive universities are highly prized by employers. Studying sociology provides excellent training in how to read critically, think deeply and analyse data to unravel complex problems, and how to express yourself clearly in writing or orally. It is no surprise that such Sociologists are very successful in getting good jobs, and many go on to great careers in all walks of life including politics, research, management, law, education, media and international development. In fact Sociology boasts a wider variety of future career options than almost any other degree.

  • The Rights of Religious Minorities and Constitutions

    The core challenge for a secular country is to address the concerns of preserving and protecting community identity while at the same time making sure that the rights of individuals are not curtailed. Societies with a wide range of ethnic and religious minorities often face this challenge. It is important to secure their rights as a group. However, individual citizens in these communities also need to be awarded rights similar to those of their counterparts in majority communities.

  • Sociological Approaches to Racism in the USA

    Racism in the USA is a systemic ideology that affects the daily experiences of minority citizens in numerous ways, including access to housing, medical care, certain vocations, and social groups. Whilst legalised discrimination is no longer tolerated, de facto discrimination continues in many of these areas. The purpose of this module is to map the ways in which attitudes about racial difference and hierarchy have changed in the USA since the period of slavery, and to trace the continuing underlying assumption that race is a key signifier of individual character and potential.

  • Social Psychology: Understanding Preference, Behaviour and Choice

    Social psychology is the study of group and population behaviour, as well as how individuals function within them. At its broadest, it includes preferences, perceptions, choices, and communication from clusters of individuals from the smallest groups (e.g. couples, families, classrooms) to the largest populations (e.g. cities, countries, ethnicities). It is perhaps the most directly-linked to government and public policy, both locally and internationally, of any psychological discipline of the past 30 years. It is very closely tied with other disciplines in the field, particularly individual differences and decision-making.

  • Memory

    There are many ways in which memory has been addressed throughout the history of psychology. Some researchers have created computer-like models to understand the functioning of memory, even simulating it with very powerful computers. Some others have studied and compared human memory to other species, like certain birds, rats, chimpanzees, or dolphins.

  • Sociology of Knowledge

    What is knowledge? This may seem self-evident – knowledge is when you know something, as opposed to not knowing it, right? But, as tends to be the case with matters related to human societies, it is a bit more complicated than that. What is considered knowledge varies in relation to the society, historical period, and culture one is living in.

  • British Politics and the 'Education Gap'

    Polling companies and political scientists have spent the last couple of years struggling to catch up with a rapidly changing political landscape, with some successes to their credit. What were once safe predictors of people’s voting intentions, such as social class or income, no longer seem so decisive. Instead, age, education, and whether we live in a city or the countryside seem to be the most reliable indicators of political attitudes.

  • Introduction to Economics

    These online resources will introduce you to some perhaps familiar (if you study Economics at school) and then unfamiliar concepts in microeconomic

  • Borders and the Refugee Crisis

    Today, more people are on the move than ever before, and sociologists are striving to make sense of what shapes this movement and how it is changing the world.

  • Psychology of Decision-Making

    Decision-making is the cognitive process of selecting a belief or a course of action from a set of possible options. Making a choice involves assessment and judgement; that is, evaluating different options and making a decision about which option to choose. Current empirical research suggests that different people in different situations frequently think about decisions in the same way, indicating that humans have a common set of cognitive skills that are used in decision making.

  • Sociological Approaches to Racism in Britain

    The crux of the matter is that race, although it has no scientific ‘objective’ existence, has remained a central way we understand the world since its introduction into our vocabularies. Why, therefore, has race remained so powerful as a way of interpreting the world? Why does race continue to have such a strong impact upon the way one lives one’s life? Why does race continue to so strongly affect one’s life chances in the labour market, education system, and access to cultural resources? This module seeks to shed some more light on these questions, answering that an analysis of racism is necessary to understand the lingering, immutable effects of race.

  • History of the Feminist Movement in Britain

    This resource will introduce the history of, and contemporary developments in, feminism in Britain. The earliest feminist thought in Britain is often attributed to Mary Wollstonecraft, known as the grandmother of British feminism, who wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. The historical development of the feminist movement in the country can be summarised through the ‘wave model’.

  • Political Religion and Conservative Christianity in the USA

    Politics and religion have long been linked; from 380AD when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, to the founding of the