Thoughts about teaching social science

I actually became interested in Sociology through my Biology research. During my time in Bioinformatics, I learned that science was not simply about revealing “facts” about the natural world, but that social mechanisms crucially shaped the packaging, publication, and dissemination of scientific knowledge. As a teacher of sociology, I aim to help students identify social mechanisms, articulate them theoretically, and develop analyses to test their theories. In other words, I want to teach students to approach the social world scientifically. In graduate school I learned that my beliefs were most closely aligned with Analytical Sociology and Bloor’s “Strong Programme.”

To help students develop these critical thinking skills, I ask my students to read influential papers across social science and write memos or give “journal club” presentations to summarize the mechanisms proposed, consider their scope and generality, and for empirical papers, scrutinize whether the analyses deployed demonstrate the action of those mechanisms. To teach students how to develop analyses, I encourage them to conduct mini-ethnographies and propose quantitative studies (even if they may not yet have the skills/time to actualize them).

In my classes, it’s important to me that students are exposed to a broad array of important subjects across social science (e.g., science, race and ethnicity, politics and polarization, culture, migration studies). This is not only because I think social science has made important contributions in many areas, but because I want students to study things that are important to and resonate with them. Ultimately, when it comes time to choose topics for exercises or projects, I want students to feel comfortable picking topics that excite them, not topics that they think will excite me.