Department Learning Goals

Sociology Learning Goals

One of the distinctive aspects of Sociology that informs how we introduce the discipline at Mount Holyoke College concerns the diversity of critical thinking. For example, we require that our students think theoretically and morally about the most important issues of our time, such as the reasons for social inequality, the changing nature of community in the contemporary era, and the impact of globalization on social structure and identity.

We also strive to familiarize students with the quantitative and qualitative evidence that sociologists use in their research, while giving them skills to assess these arguments. Here are two examples (among others) that inform the learning goals of our major.

First, students should be able to evaluate empirical research and write a proposal/study based on their own research.

Second, students should be able to write an insightful and intelligent essay on a difficult text like Marx’s "On the Jewish Question" or Habermas’s  “What is Meant by a ‘Post-Secular’ Society? A Discussion of Islam in Europe.” What follows is a more complete summary of the learning goals of the major.

1. Sociology is a way to think about social life. Sociology’s concepts and methods are used in a wide range of occupations and institutions. Sociology is one of the social sciences but also a liberal arts discipline, and shares concerns with the natural sciences as well as the classical humanities. 

  • perceive the connection between a sociological perspective and its use in a range of occupations and institutions.
  • distinguish and connect sociology with other social science methods and practices.
  • identify core theoretical concepts in the discipline. 

2. Society and social things have a moral quality. This is the basic idea that all social things are also evaluated socially as good or bad, right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate, sacred or profane. 

  • perceive and identify the moral quality of persons, objects and events
  • perceive the role of sociological theories and methods in studying and evaluating moral phenomena.
  • understand that all social research always has moral stakes; thus to distinguish the moral quality of a social thing from making a judgment about that moral quality. 
3. Society is it is composed of more than individuals. It is complex and historical. Society is composed not only of individuals but also of relationships, networks, institutions that form the context for individuals. Thus social things can exist at different scales. They also vary according to history and geography. 
  • distinguish between different levels of analysis and link across them; for example, a student should be able to place individuals, institutions and events in a social (institutional, historical, cultural) context.
  • discern the connection between “biography and history” (Mills) between “lively subjects and dead structures” (Lemert)
  • ask critical questions about the historical provenance of social things, including institutions, classification systems and persons. 
4. Knowledge is socially located. This includes sociological knowledge. American sociology includes the historical canon of theorists and empirical exemplars, as well as their critics. It includes forgotten theorists and newer expressions and intellectual relationships in the United States and around the world.
  • locate themselves in social context and locate other people, institutions, and claims in social context.
  • distinguish the history of sociological theory from making theoretical arguments or applying theory to contemporary examples.
  • relate how American sociology has a specific history that starts in Europe and unfolds in a world context. 

5. Sociology uses a range of research methods to study U.S. and world society. Sociology is committed to the norms of scientific and intellectual community. These include the norms and practices of scientific methods and scientific communication, an appreciation for literary and historical methods, and a wide range of cultural methods. It also includes a commitment to putting a sociological perspective to work in the world. 

  • describe several ways that sociology is used in the worlds of work, politics and other domains of social life.
  • describe the range of different sociological methods including observation/ethnography, interpretive methods, textual analysis, interviewing, historical-comparative methods, survey, observational, and experimental methods.
  • use several different sociological research methods o distinguish scientific from non-scientific statements.
  • distinguish better and worse empirical arguments.
  • assess information against technical standards and shared values.
  • ask critical questions about information, including texts, quantitative data, and visual information