Sociology is about understanding societies, cultures and the various types of processes that produce them. Because the sociological perspective cuts across so many disciplines, students who study sociology can end up working in a variety of different fields.

Why study sociology?

Sociology is about understanding societies, cultures and the various types of processes that produce them. Because the sociological perspective cuts across so many disciplines, students who study sociology can end up working in a variety of different fields, from social and market research to policy analysis and human resources and even social and community activism.

By studying sociology, students can become aware of the underlying social dimensions in political, economic and legal systems, for example. The University of Ottawa's School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies puts a strong emphasis on the acquisition of critical thinking. A sound knowledge of sociology is a significant asset in many careers.

Are elections enough to sustain democracy?

Yes free elections are important, but sociologists have shown that they are not enough. For example, for much of human history individuals have only trusted people who were part of their everyday networks such as family, kin group, or religious community.

Without social processes such as state education, national cultures, or public associations for example, it would not be possible for individuals to trust their fellow citizens enough to engage in the collective struggles that are at the core of any democratic society.

For sociologists, understanding these social processes is important: democracy cannot be taken for granted. If the social processes that make it possible for individuals to trust others were to disappear, so could democracy.

Protestors carrying signs: "No justice, no peace" and "Silence is compliance".

Is a person's health the result of genetic makeup, lifestyle, or the healthcare system?

Sociologists have shown that beyond one's genetic makeup there are a number of social factors that have an impact on health.
For instance, the poor and other marginalized groups often suffer worse overall health than do other groups. Furthermore, unhealthy life style choices appear to be less linked to individual choices than they are to the social constraints that individuals may be facing.

In fact, people with vibrant social networks are healthier than those without them. As such, while health problems appear to be tied to biology and to individuals, a sociological approach points to how intervening socially can also have an impact on the health of individuals and groups.

Are technologies just tools?

Every human society which has existed thus far has always possessed two things: religion and technology.

Sociological research has brought to light the fact that technologies are not just practical tools, but also complex and profound human forms of expression. The technologies that we create and use reflect our values (for example, automobiles reflect the values of speed, mobility, and individualism).

But what happens when new technologies challenge some people's values? Technology has made humanity extremely powerful. Sociologists study and attempt to explain how this power is being used, for better and for worse.

A child using a virtual reality headset

Is school only good for getting a job?

Many sociologists have shown that the role of schools is not limited to the development of the skills necessary to get a job. Schools contribute to the development of the capacities that enable people to participate in society at the level of the family, the community and the broader public sphere.

Contemporary research in the field reveals that this remains even more the case today than ever before. Our families are smaller, and children rarely interact with adults other than their parents. It is through school that children make contact with society. It is through education that they learn about its functioning: how to participate in it and how to improve it.

What role does taste play in forming our identities?

What kind of music makes up your favorite playlist?

Are you more likely to purchase an affordable and useful purse from a department store, a cotton fair trade eco-friendly bag in a specialized outlet, or a fancy Louis Vuitton hand bag? Are you into extreme sports or do you prefer taking a leisurely stroll in the city? Tofu sandwich or double cheeseburger?

Sociological research looks at how tastes and purchases often express life choices that allow us to identify with others who make similar choices, and to engage with them in common projects. At the same time, our tastes also differentiate us form those who do not like what we like.

Sociologists are interested in understanding how taste contributes to the formation of our identities.

A person carrying their Whole Foods grocery bag

If race is just about physical differences would accepting these differences permit us to overcome racism?

Skin colour is sometimes taken to be an undeniable and objective fact: as result terms such as “black” or “white” appear natural.

However, a social-historical exploration of the different meanings associated with the idea of race from the 15th century to present day reveals that such terms have not always had the same meaning we attribute to them today.
Sociology can reveal how traits and social markers such as physical features, skin colour, dress or other carriers of individual and collective identity, are in fact the product of social conventions and not of actual biological differences in race.

By drawing attention to the impact of simple terms we take for granted, sociology provides an invaluable contribution to ongoing social and scholarly debates about race.

A group of youths of differing backgrounds