Fields of Strength

photo of a grad student addressing a group of colleagues

Research and teaching are organized around five broad fields of strength: Critical Social Theory; Culture and Identities; Global Sociology; Nature/Society/Culture; Processes, Practices and Power. They reflect the increasing diversity of sociology, the boundaries of which overlap with many other contemporary intellectual endeavours. The fields, described below, are synergistic with linkages to Organized Research Units (ORU’s) and area studies that are designed to enhance collaborative work and intellectual exchange.

Critical Social Theory

The Graduate Program in Sociology is widely recognized for providing rigorous and diverse training in classical and contemporary theory, as well as for sustaining innovative research from a variety of theoretical paradigms. Our program’s distinctiveness stems from its long-standing commitment to critical and interpretive approaches. Rooted as they are in the classics, these approaches also include more recent developments in Marxism, phenomenology and hermeneutics, German and French strands of critical theory, feminist theory, critical race theory, postcolonialism, and poststructuralism. These diverse perspectives share a commitment to interpreting the meaning of social action, questioning the taken-for-granted character of everyday life and that of the existing social order. They, likewise, pay attention to various forms of power in society.

Culture and Identities

This field unites the program’s traditional strengths in interactionist, phenomenological, and social-psychological approaches to cultural processes and the self with pioneering work in cultural studies on the representation, proliferation and politicization of identities grounded in newer paradigms (postcolonialism, poststructuralism, queer and diaspora studies, etc.).

Fields of inquiry range from studies of the family, households and intimate relationships to patterns of socialization, and the role of religion in social life. The construction of identity through bodies, sexualities, gender, ethnicities, racialization, migration, citizenship, cities, space and place, as well as modes of governmentality are, likewise, a central concern. These various interests are linked through their commitment to a specifically sociological focus on cultural processes, the relations of power, and the sites of socio-political struggle shaping these processes. Methodological strategies include the use of historical, cross-cultural, survey, interpretive, textual, and ethnographic research.

Global Sociology

This field combines the program’s longstanding interest in area studies, comparative sociology, critical development studies, and refugee and immigration studies with emerging work in global approaches to citizenship studies, transnational social and cultural formations, and the cultural politics of environment. Researchers address the interactions among the local, national, and global dimensions of social and cultural life.

The program has a strong institutional history in the study of four regions: Latin America and the Caribbean, South and South-East Asia, North America, and the Middle East. Substantive research has dealt with topics such as: diasporas, displacement and exile; social movements; genealogies of development; identities and space; networks; state policies and responses to migration; genealogies of citizenship beyond the nation-state; the constitution of public spaces through new communications technologies; global environmental issues; the roles of women in migrant communities; the political economy of health; and the character of urban cultures and economies in world cities.


This field regroups teaching and research in a number of established and emerging areas of interest: environmental sociology, the sociology of the body, governmentality approaches to health, and critical studies of science and technology. Work in these fields underlines the indelibly socio-cultural character of naturalized categories and practices, such as the body, sexuality, the life course, health and illness, and techno-science. Attention is focused on the ways in which these categories and practices intersect with various relations of power in society (gender, sexuality, class, race and ethnicity), as well as how more democratic processes of public participation can be fostered. The aim is to explore the boundaries between the natural, social, and the cultural realm, as they have been conventionally constituted in the human sciences. A principal concern is the causes and consequences of environmental degradation. The focus is on environmentalism, violence, and displacement; the intersection of the urban and nature; and the impact of techno-scientific developments upon social life.

Processes, Practices and Power

This field integrates teaching and research on social processes, institutional practices, and power and inequality. Members of the program study the forms, practices, and textures of institutional life, including how they are generated and reproduced, where and by whom, their effects, particularly in terms of social and moral regulation, and forms and means of resistance and change from both a contemporary and historical perspective. These topics are taken up in both Canadian and international contexts, especially in relation to the workings of race and racialization, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class. Areas of concentration within the field include: Work and Labour; Health Studies; Social Regulation; Law and Crime; and the Sociology of Education.

Current research deals with the links between class, education, and social mobility; social movements acting within civil society; governmental discourses and mechanisms; transnational organized crime and corruption; violence, abuse and conflict resolution; narrative forms of popular trials; comparative studies on the restructuring of global capitalism and labour relations; the gendered, racialized, and class-based character of health systems; structural sources of racism, capitalism, and patriarchy; the development and influence of intellectual, economic, and political elites; and varieties of social histories.