What is Sociology?

Many people who major in sociology had never heard of it before they came to Princeton. These students learn that we offer a cutting edge undergraduate major for people interested in the social dimensions of politics, economics, history, psychology, and population dynamics. We are also a department in which concentrators can deepen their understanding of global issues, and our program is designed so that students who wish to go abroad in the spring of the junior year can do so. Our students benefit from a smaller major where they get more individual attention from faculty than they reasonably can expect in the larger concentrations.

If you are a sociologist at Princeton, the world is your oyster. This is a department where you can integrate different approaches to knowledge. Sociology was founded in the 19th Century by a Frenchman, Auguste Comte, who said we were destined to be the Queen of the Sciences. He believed that this new field could produce knowledge about society based on scientific evidence. He regarded sociology as the last science to be developed - following physics, chemistry, and biology - but sociology, he believed, should contribute to the welfare of humanity by using science to understand and therefore control and predict group behavior. In the United States, empirical studies of inequality between- and within-groups began with Jane Addams examining settlement houses in Hull House Maps and Papers(1895), W.E.B. Du Bois analyzing the black community in The Philadelphia Barrio(1899), and W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki explaining the lives of immigrants in The Polish Peasant in Europe and America(1918).

Like the discipline‚Äôs founders, sociology professors at Princeton are working on important topics of concern in the "real world" inside and outside the university.  Courses deal with such issues as the way that people find jobs, spend money, lose their homes, acquire an education, start businesses, participate in their neighborhoods, form families, and adapt to life in a new country.  Course discussions include the role social networks play, the dilemmas that diversity exposes in higher education, and how poverty and inequality have deepened in America. 

Recent books by professors in the department include studies of immigration, eviction, poverty, health, inequality, religious diversity, schooling, neighborhood life, and household finances. We are interested in revealing the exercise of power when none appears to be operating. And we help students trace how a course of action can have unintended consequences. We emphasize the careful use of evidence to develop and enrich our understanding of social processes, and we use a wide variety of statistical, ethnographic, and historical methods. 

People often ask how practical a sociology degree is, and they are surprised to learn that our majors go into a wide range of fields from investment banking to law to medicine to big data analytics to education to political activism and the non-profit sector.