The Human Universe: Introduction to Sociology



Why does the population of Papua New Guinea live on less than two dollars a day while the U.S. enjoys a median income over $50,000 per year? Why is my enemy’s enemy often my friend?  Why do we tend to look at the numbers in the elevator instead of each other?  Why are some folks willing to die for their country?  Why do some kids thrive under adverse conditions while others wilt or explode?  Why are you here in this class? Why? Why? Why?

This class will examine commonality and variance in contemporary human lives.  Sociology is a vast and undisciplined discipline sharing commonalities in subject matter or methods with fields ranging from cultural anthropology to political science and economics to population genetics.  This catholicism (small c-) is both its strength and weakness: There bad news is that there is no central organizing master narrative around which to organize the knowledge produced by sociologists—like the law of supply and demand in economics of the central dogma of molecular biology (DNA->RNA->PROTEIN).   The good news is that there is no master narrative, even if that absence can sometimes be frustrating.

Ultimately the task of the sociologist is to “make the familiar strange” by breaking down unexamined assumptions and then rebuilding our common understanding of the world based on testable theory and/or interpretive understanding of social action.  If that last sentence does not quite make sense right now, don’t worry, it will be the end of the semester (hopefully by the end of Week 2).  The main learning objective is that by the end of the course, you should be able to write an excellent sociological question—yes, a single sentence. It’s harder than it might seem at first glance.