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Sociology of Law and Politics

What careers are possible in this area?

Understanding law and politics is a great preparation for careers in the nonprofit sector, the government, and the law. Each year several sociology majors go on to law school and careers in the government and nonprofit sector.

What is special about the major in sociology?

The sociology degree has a very strong sequence of four courses on theory and research methods that are the foundation for the major. The sequence provides you with the basis for reading scientific research and also conducting research. Some of our students have gone on to jobs in think tanks and other nonprofit organizations, where these skills are very important.

A degree in sociology provides several skills that can be the basis of a successful career in many fields:

  • Sociologists are trained to weigh controversies and develop complex analyses of social and organizational problems, a skill that is important in many careers, especially those that involve leadership positions.
  • Sociologists understand how to review a social science literature on a problem, assess the direction of the literature, and provide thoughtful and well-written summaries and analyses. The capacity to digest, analyze, and synthesize a diverse set of sources is valuable in a wide range of careers.
  • Sociologists are trained to translate research into policy analysis and develop policy based on research.
  • Sociologists are trained in hypothesis generation and testing, data analysis, and both qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Sociologists have a broad understanding of our rapidly changing world and are well-equipped to adapt to new career circumstances and to help organizations adapt to changing economic, political, and social environments.

Sociology of law and policy at Vanderbilt

The sociology department offers many courses in the sociology of law and politics:

  • Soc 3602. Change and Social Movements in the Sixties. What does this important decade in American history tell us about our politics? What social movements were active during this time, and what were their continuing effects today? Prof. Larry Isaac.
  • Soc 3621.  Criminology. Who commits crimes and why? How do we best control crime? A general introduction to one of the most important areas of applied sociology. Taught by Professors George Becker and Laurie Woods.
  • Soc 3624. Prison Life. What is it like to be a prisoner? What are the strategies and patterns in the way prisons have been organized over time? A trip to a prison is also part of this popular course. Prof. Rosevelt Noble.
  • Soc 3613. Law and Society. How does the legal system both contribute to social inequality and help to overcome such inequalities? How does the legal system operate in practice? Courts, lawyers, and the police. Prof. Holly McCammon.
  • Soc 3615. Human Behavior in Organizations. What makes an organization a good or bad place to work? How do you become a successful leader of an organization? Prof. Daniel Cornfield.
  • Soc 3604. American Social Movements. How do people organize at a grassroots level to bring about change? What makes movements successful, and what are reasons for failure?  Prof. Holly McCammon.
  • Soc 3616. Women and Public Policy in America. How do our laws and policies affect women, and how do women affect these policies? Consideration of many contemporary issues such as affirmative action, abortion, divorce, child support, and health care. Prof. Holly McCammon.
  • Soc 3605.  Law and Social Movements.  How do social movement activists interact with the law?  How do they engage in activist litigation in the courts, attempt to persuade lawmakers in legislative bodies to enact new law, and confront the police during protest events, and to what degree do law enforcement agents use surveillance to monitor activists beyond protest?  Prof. Holly McCammon
  • Soc 3223. Schools and Society. Why does education continue to be such a controversial political problem? What are the underlying politics of proposed policy reforms such as charter schools and “no child left behind”? How does education offer a way out of poverty, and how does it continue to track people into the class they were born into? Prof. Richard Pitt.
  • Soc 3232. Contemporary Mexican Society. What is life like in our important neighbor to the south? How are institutions there different from those of the U.S.? Why is immigration such a hot issue, and how will it be resolved? Prof. Katharine M. Donato.

Combining majors and minors

There are many opportunities to create a bundle of majors and minors that work for you. Some students opt to combine a major in sociology with a major or minor in political science.  If you plan to work in the government or nonprofit sector, one option is to add the minor in Managerial Studies with a focus on Leadership and Organizations.  If you are interested in health law, then the MHS (Medicine, Health, and Society) and sociology combination would work well. Some sociology majors also take a minor or double major in economics to prepare them for work in the nonprofit and government sector.

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