What Sociology is
Sociology is the field of study concerned with the way in which we live in the world, along with other people. It explores the many fascinating, hopeful, and sometimes tragic interactions in which we engage in our everyday lives. Sociology questions the common sense ideas we operate with on a day-to-day level, challenging for example our tendency to generalise about social phenomena based on our own limited experiences. Sociology, as it is taught in universities and colleges around the world, aims to produce more thoughtful, critical and understanding students not only in their role as academics studying for degrees, but also as participants interacting in society.
Sociologists (including both lecturers and students teaching and studying sociology) have constantly to rethink their role as they acquire new forms of knowledge and as societies change. How do we respond to the rapidly changing social worlds we inhabit, and to the major issues and problems which dominate many contemporary societies, including South Africa, such as HIV/AIDS, unemployment, poverty, development, transport, the environment, gender, crime, drug addiction, violence, racism and ‘racial’ segregation?
Sociologists address these and other important social issues through employing a variety of methods, some which work with statistical data about large scale social trends, and others which engage with the everyday social lives and interactions of particular groups and individuals in societies.
As suggested in this brief introduction, Sociology is at the forefront of disciplines working to understand society in various ways, and employing a variety of different research methods, to investigate social phenomena. On the basis of systematic research and thinking, sociologists are often able suggest appropriate interventions to address the sorts of social issues and problems mentioned above, and to test and evaluate social policies in the world around us.
Offered as a major, Sociology attempts to teach students, firstly, to think critically drawing on a variety of theories and to analyse society in all its complexity; and, secondly, it introduces students to social research, from a basic introduction through to the rich world of research undertaken within present day societies.
Sociology as a discipline has always specialised in producing critical thinkers, and people who have then put that critical thinking into practice through asking questions and doing research to answer them. In this way Sociology provides a general qualification that prepares students for participation in the world of work in a number of areas that deal with the world of human interaction: social research (in state departments, market research, local government, non-governmental organisations, and many more wherever questions are asked to enable policy formulation and social intervention); journalism; policy evaluation and impact assessment (where Sociological knowledge is essential in testing whether an intervention is working, or finding the sometimes less obvious implications of interventions, whether it be building a community hall or constructing a dam); lecturer or teacher; consultant (where a knowledge of the social world is essential, even when we are dealing with issues that seem to have no social consequences – conservation, civil engineering projects); additional paths to Human Resource Management and many other directions, such as town and regional planning, community development, social work, and so on); organisational developer.
Courses begin with first year Introduction to Sociology (Socy 101) and Introduction to South African Society (Socy 102). These are `prerequisites’ that you will have to complete before continuing with the second level courses. At second level Sociology, the first semester, introduces you to some of the major social thinkers in the discipline, such as Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, and how they addressed the social worlds in which they were located (the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries); while, in the second semester a course on Social Change is offered.
At the third level, in the first semester, Sociology examines Contemporary Sociological Thinking and looks at, in particular, how various contemporary theories understand ‘race’ and gender in current society. One of the aims of this course is to help students understand different theories by encouraging them to make sense of social phenomena in the world around them. In the second semester Sociology offers a research course as well as courses, which address contemporary social issues such as poverty and transport. In this semester all students have the opportunity to engage in their own research to gain firsthand experience, under staff supervision, of the research process in its entirety.
Right through your stay in Sociology the two themes of critical analysis, drawing on theories, and of research will shape the courses and our approach. We will make you aware of the close relationship between what we study and how we study it, the world in which we are all located and within which you will be expected to work after completing your studies.
Sociology is a discipline in the School of Social Sciences.
We would encourage our students to take their studies seriously, to engage with us as staff, and to see a future in the discipline beyond the first degree. Graduate studies (Honours and Masters) in Sociology and related disciplines allow you to qualify in greater depth than a first degree allows.
We offer what we think is a very enticing menu with compulsory courses in Theory and Methods and options in Environmental Sociology, Gender and Feminism, Urban Sociology, Thinking about ‘Race’. These courses address cutting edge issues, and are, in part, informed by the lecturers’ own research interests and presented in student-centred ways, which encourages participation and discussion.
Both undergraduate and post-graduate modules and the course structure are to be found in the College Handbook (available on the College website http://coh.ukzn.ac.za/Humanities-Online-Publications/CollegeHandbook.aspx)
In the various courses we aim at:
- Teaching critical skills that will allow you to analyse and evaluate the social world in which you find yourself - at the local, regional and national levels, but also within a global context. We try to question common sense views of the world, admitting to the complexity of social interactions; developing an approach that will make for clearer understanding and more effective intervention in society. To enable such understanding and questioning we draw on classical and contemporary theory within the social sciences more broadly and within sociology specifically.
- We aim to develop practical skills: social research, information, technology, accessing information (in the libraries and archives, on the Internet, through mass media), reading and presentational skills. These are integral to every course, from first level to graduate studies, but specifically within dedicated research courses (Research Methods in the Social Sciences at first level, Research Design at third level, and two graduate research courses).
- Third, through the content that we draw on in the various courses we will convey information on the social world. Every lecturer also alerts students to a range of additional sources of information essential to studying and understanding the world we live in. For example, we draw on the multicultural texture that resulted from the historic migrations into the KwaZulu-Natal province, the serious contemporary social issues of the local, and the effects of global integration.