Spring 2017 Special Topics Courses in Sociology

Seminars in Sociology (01:920:422)

Language, Thought, and Identity – 920:422 sec 01 

Why is President Obama considered a black man whose mother was white rather than a white man whose father was black? Why does adding a slice of cheese turn a plain “hamburger” into a “cheeseburger” whereas adding some ketchup does not turn it into a “ketchupburger”? Why is the term working mom far more widely used than the nominally equivalent term working dad? And why do we have a term such as openly gay yet no term such as openly straight?

These are the kind of questions we will address in this course, which is designed to help students gain a better understanding of the way we construct and maintain social identities (“male,” “Muslim,” “adult,” “American,” “conservative,” “Asian,” “gay,” “vegetarian,” “Southerner,” “feminist”), and of the role played by the act of “othering” in that process. We will thus examine how we come to (a) define what is “normal,” (b) set our cognitive “defaults,” and (c) establish what we habitually come to take for granted. We will draw on various disciplines (sociology, anthropology, linguistics, history, cultural studies, literary criticism, and disability studies) to examine the way we construct our social identities. In so doing, we will be able to better understand why terms such as homoerotic and non-whites are used much more widely than their nominally equivalent counterparts heteroerotic and non-blacks, as well as the cultural nuances underlying such concepts as white-collar crime, non-Western, standard English, and “Black Lives Matter.

Eviatar Zerubavel is Board of Governors and Distinguished Professor of Sociology. He is the author of eleven books and has written about a wide variety of topics ranging from maps, calendars, and flexibility to race, perception, and memory. His last three books explored the social organization of silence and denial, the social construction of genealogical relatedness, and the social foundations of relevance and irrelevance. He is a currently writing a book on taken-for-grantedness and “normality.”


Food, Culture, and Society  – 920:422 sec 03  

This course draws upon a variety of perspectives to examine the social processes that influence how food is produced, distributed, prepared, and consumed in the Global North. Our focus will be on the production and consumption sides of the food system. We will cover the political economy of the food system, the sociology of nutrition, gender relations in foodwork, race and ethnicity in food culture, gourmet food culture, and the rise of food media.

The readings cover many subfields of sociology, including environmental sociology, risk, sociology of science, gender, intersectionality theory, and cultural studies. Within each of these perspectives, food is used as a lens to examine the complex social and economic relations that shape food systems and foodways. Our objective in this course is to consider how environmental degradation, labor injustices, unequal access to healthy food, the cultural valuation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food, dietary advice, and the gendered division of foodwork are socially produced, and reflect a tension between individual agency and social structure.


Sociology of Higher Education  – 920:422 sec 05

In this book-based seminar we will delve into the Sociological perspective on the undergraduate experience at both the level of the students and the institution. Our investigation will cover a broad range of schools including big and small, private and public, elite and non-elite. We’ll look at what makes for a successful undergraduate education and what students do and do not learn in college. How students approach their time in school and how colleges and universities respond to that approach will also be studied. Stratification in higher education will be investigated via the reproduction of inequality and how schools attempt to climb prestige rankings. Town-gown relationships and student crime and victimization are also on the agenda. Finally, we’ll study the place of big-time sports in higher education for schools and students.

D. Randall Smith is Associate Professor of Sociology. He has taught courses in Higher Education and Society, Intercollegiate Athletics, and Sociology of Sport among others. His current research looks into what big-time sports bring to the host institution including (perhaps) more applications, better students, more donations, and greater student retention. His most recent project is a study of student fandom at football games.

Contact Us

Department of Sociology
Davison Hall
26 Nichol Avenue,
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

P  848-932-4029
F  732-932-6067