Skip to main content

Program Overview

Among the top ten sociology departments in the nation, Northwestern’s Department of Sociology enjoys a reputation for balancing scholarly rigor with an open and collegial atmosphere among its professors and students. Structural elements – a weekly colloquium series, numerous workshops, an open-door faculty, a supportive staff – combine with tradition to sustain this distinctive departmental culture.
We take pride in working with each student to create an individualized program of study and research. In the first year students are offered a variety of courses in theory and methods. The second year of the program revolves around seminars, workshops and independent research leading to completion of a required second year paper. By the end of the third year, students are required to write a special field paper to show command of the literature in their chosen subfield. Work beyond the third year is directed toward the dissertation, research seminars, and workshops.
There is virtually no area of sociological inquiry that students cannot pursue at Northwestern. A look at faculty interests and recent dissertations attests to the variety of topics members of our community have investigated. The Department has particular strength in four substantive areas: culture; law, economy, and organizations; social inequality; and comparative-historical sociology.
Culture consists of three areas of inquiry: the study of how systems of ideas interact with, reproduce, and transform other social structures and social identities; the study of cultural products, such as art, literature, music; and ethnographic analysis of the patterns of social interaction of groups of people. Northwestern offers special strengths in cultural theory, political culture, sociology of the arts, and cultural aspects of gender, class, and ethnic relations.
Law, Economy, and Organizations utilizes departmental faculty expertise and builds on the department's strong relationships with the Kellogg School of Management, the Northwestern Law School, and the American Bar Foundation. In the field of law and society, we have particular strength in crime and justice, human rights, international law, discrimination, health, business regulation, legal consciousness, and the legal profession. In economic sociology and organizations we study bankruptcy, taxes, welfare states, quantification, technology, corporate governance, management, and mass communication.
Social inequality includes the study of the origins of inequality and its different forms; analysis of its major dimensions such as race, gender, labor market position, social networks, income, etc., and how these vary among and within societies; examinations of what kinds of social systems generate particular forms of inequality such as slavery, class differentiation, residential segregation, environmental racism, and seniority systems or other forms of age grading; and investigation of the consequences of inequality.
Comparative-historical sociology involves the examination of social structures and events across societies and historical time. In its simplest form, parallel events or social structures in two societies are examined. In its more complex variants, a range of similarities and differences across many societies may be studied. The goal of comparative-historical sociology is to unite differences and similarities in a single, comprehensive framework in order to make sense of diversity in social forms and historical outcomes.
The Department takes pride in its placement record: Nearly all of our students who complete the Ph.D. move into academic or research positions. In the past five years our students have gained tenure-track assistant professorships at Rutgers, NYU-Abu Dhabi, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Purdue, Washington University-St. Louis, McGill Business School, Bowdoin, Emory, Tufts, UC-Berkeley, National Taiwan University, Beloit, University of Iowa, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and the United States Military Academy (West Point). They have taken research positions at IBM, Child Trends, and the National Center for Youth Law, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Some of our JD/PhD student have gone on to become lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Alumni have also won post-doctoral fellowships at Columbia, Notre Dame, U. Penn, Dartmouth, Rice, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, Oxford, Graduate Institute Geneva, University of Washington-Seattle, Tufts, DePaul, Pepperdine, Cornell, University of Delaware, and Harvard. This extraordinary placement record underscores the quality of our graduate students and the effectiveness of our Ph.D. program.