We take pride in working with each student to create an individualized program of study and research. In the first year students are offered a variety of courses in theory and methods. The second year of the program revolves around seminars, workshops and independent research leading to completion of a required second year paper. By the end of the third year, students are required to write a special field paper to show command of the literature in their chosen subfield. Work beyond the third year is directed toward the dissertation, research seminars, and workshops.
Culture consists of three areas of inquiry: the study of how systems of ideas interact with, reproduce, and transform other social structures and social identities; the study of cultural products, such as art, literature, music; and ethnographic analysis of the patterns of social interaction of groups of people. Northwestern offers special strengths in cultural theory, political culture, sociology of the arts, and cultural aspects of gender, class, and ethnic relations.
Law, Economy, and Organizations utilizes departmental faculty expertise and builds on the department's strong relationships with the Kellogg School of Management, the Northwestern Law School, and the American Bar Foundation. In the field of law and society, we have particular strength in crime and justice, human rights, international law, discrimination, health, business regulation, legal consciousness, and the legal profession. Focuses in economic sociology and organizations include bankruptcy, taxes, welfare states, quantification, technology, corporate governance, management, and mass communication.
Social inequality includes the study of the origins of inequality and its different forms; analysis of its major dimensions such as race, gender, labor market position, social networks, income, etc., and how these vary among and within societies; examinations of what kinds of social systems generate particular forms of inequality such as slavery, class differentiation, residential segregation, environmental racism, and seniority systems or other forms of age grading; and investigation of the consequences of inequality.
Comparative-historical sociology involves the examination of social structures and events across societies and historical time. In its simplest form, parallel events or social structures in two societies are examined. In its more complex variants, a range of similarities and differences across many societies may be studied. The goal of comparative-historical sociology is to unite differences and similarities in a single, comprehensive framework in order to make sense of diversity in social forms and historical outcomes.
Our philosophy is that research interests come first and research methods should be tailored to fit research questions. The Department provides comprehensive training in methodology and has faculty who cover a wide range of social science research methods. While faculty and students pursue a variety of research topics, the Department's strengths include four substantive areas: culture; law, economy, and organizations; social inequality; and comparative-historical sociology.
The department is proud of its methods pluralism and the conversations that take place across the methods spectrum. Mixed-methods approaches are celebrated, as is research that is firmly and rigorously grounded in a single method. We provide comprehensive training and mentoring in the following areas:
Comparative Historical Methods
Comparative-Historical Social Science (CHSS) adopts a distinctive set of methodological and theoretical tools for studying the political and social world. These include the following: 1) Temporally-oriented analysis in which researchers study historical sequences and examine the unfolding of processes over time. The "historical" component of CHSS is not defined by the study of past events; rather, it refers to the use of historical approaches to time and sequence to interpret and explain events in the world. 2) Theoretically-grounded analysis in which researchers formulate and assess concepts, hypotheses, and interpretations in light of fine-grained evidence from cases. In CHSS, theory development is typically carried out in close relation to particular empirical problems. 3) Comparative analysis in which researchers systematically juxtapose multiple features of cases to identify the key similarities and differences relevant to their research goals. Close comparison is essential to many of the specific methods of descriptive and causal analysis pursued in the field. 4) Case-oriented analysis in which researchers develop expertise in one or more countries, areas, or regions in order to solve particular theoretical or empirical problems. Such expertise may be achieved through archival research, in-depth historical reading, and/or field and ethnographic research.
Cultural sociology is one of Northwestern’s areas of excellence, and the Sociology department is committed to training students in this area of research. It does so in two ways.
1) In addition to courses in field methods, quantitative analysis, and comparative methods—many of which are relevant to cultural research—the Sociology Department offers a specific course on Research Methods for the Sociology of Culture. This course, which is offered every two years, considers how one formulates a research question and puts evidence together in order to investigate specific instances of the culture-society interaction and, from doing so, to assess cultural theory. It is designed for students who already have some background in cultural sociology, and who have a research project underway or in the planning stages that involves cultural analysis. The course compares sociological methods with those from the humanities and cultural studies in terms of the relationship between evidence and argument. It looks at the steps of research from topic to question formation to hypotheses and data collection to analysis of findings to issues of reliability and validity. Topics include: defining cultural objects; appropriate comparisons; creators and the role of intention; reception aesthetics and audience studies. The course aims to create a productive interplay between research activities and methodological awareness.
2) For advanced graduate students (third-year and beyond), the Culture and Society Workshop offers an interdisciplinary, faculty/student intellectual home. The workshop meets for two hours every week, and its principle activity is reading and responding to participants’ work-in-progress. Students often affiliate with the Workshop for three or four years, with their presentations moving from early drafts of thesis proposals, through developing chapters, and finally to practice job talks. The Workshop facilitates making the transition from student to scholar.
Field Methods and Ethnography
Northwestern University is well-known nationally for its training in field methods and ethnographic research. Our sociology department, under the leadership of Howard S. Becker, Arlene Kaplan Daniels, and their colleagues, was one of the first American sociological departments to make qualitative research an integral component of graduate sociological training. The current department has a large and active group of faculty and graduate students conducting field research, including Carol Heimer, Gary Alan Fine, Mary Pattillo, Carolyn Chen, and Celeste Watkins-Hayes. The department annually offers a required graduate course in Methods of Field Research. In addition, the department sponsors a bi-weekly workshop on ethnographic methods, and an informal monthly ethnographic support group in which faculty and students discuss their ongoing field projects. The department currently offers a Sociological Research Fellowship that provides recipients the opportunity to spend a quarter conducting research outside of the Chicago area. In addition, the Department of Sociology founded and is an active participant in the annual Chicago Conference on Sociological Ethnography. We believe that no graduate program offers a greater depth and breadth of qualitative training than does Northwestern.
Northwestern has recently emerged as one of the most exciting departments for training in quantitative social research. This training seeks to develop both the skill and insight needed to use quantitative data to articulate connections between sociological theory and issues of public and policy debate. Faculty central to quantitative training at Northwestern are Thomas Cook, Jeremy Freese, John Hagan, Leslie McCall, Robert Nelson, Christine Percheski, and Lincoln Quillian. Many faculty have ongoing projects consonant with the department's core strength in social inequality, and the department's Inequality Workshop provides a lively forum for this work. The Institute for Policy Research (IPR) and its weekly colloquium also provides a venue for fostering awareness of the latest policy-related research. IPR is also home to the Center for Improving Methods for Quantitative Policy Research, which features its own colloquium on new developments in quantitative methods. While sociology offers a three-quarter graduate sequence in statistics as well as advanced courses in event history analysis, quasi-experimental design and analysis, advanced demographic techniques, and the logic of causation, the department also has a flexible curriculum that allows students to take methods courses of their choosing in other schools and departments, with offerings in Human Development, Political Science, Economics, and Statistics.
Joint Degree Programs
Management and Organizations and Sociology
The Department of Management and Organizations in the Kellogg Graduate School of Management and the Department of Sociology are strongly tied. Organizations play a key role in stratification, social change, and collective behavior, and are themselves shaped by larger sociological and historical processes. The joint program is designed for students who want to gain a disciplinary base in sociology while focusing their doctoral research on organizations and their environments. Specific areas of research include: building and testing theory about organizations, their members and their management; organizational processes; institutions; and the embeddedness of economic action in social structure.
Law and Sociology
The Law and Social Sciences Program is open to a small number of students who intend to pursue an academic career and whose teaching and research will be enriched by both the JD and PhD degrees. Applicants who wish to participate in the program must complete dual applications and meet the admission requirements for both Northwestern's School of Law and the Graduate School. To request an application for admission, please write to: Northwestern University School of Law, Office of Admissions.
Graduate Program in Comparative-Historical Social Science
Co-sponsored by the Departments of Political Science and Sociology, the Graduate Program in Comparative-Historical Social Science (CHSS) supports training for graduate students interested in comparative and historical research. Students in the program complete their Ph.D. in either political science or sociology, but also receive a certificate from the University for expertise in the interdisciplinary area of CHSS. The program provides students with a common coursework structure integrated with their departmental curricula; resources for student research, including travel abroad; interdisciplinary venues at which to present work in progress and receive feedback; and opportunities for collaborative research.
The Multidisciplinary Program in Educational Sciences
Northwestern University has initiated an innovative interdisciplinary doctoral training program to develop a cadre of scholars trained to conduct relevant and reliable research on pressing policy and practice issues in education. This Multidisciplinary Program in Education Sciences (MPES) is intended for students who want to pursue a research agenda that focuses on practical questions in U.S. education from a rigorous interdisciplinary perspective. Program hallmarks are interdisciplinary teaching and mentoring of fellows by core and affiliated Northwestern faculty engaged in education-focused research. Successful graduates of the program receive a Certificate in Education Sciences in addition to a doctorate in their discipline. Student fellows enter the program at the beginning of their second year. The program provides a stipend, as well as travel and research funds for three years.
Graduate Program in Gender Studies
The Graduate Certificate in Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary program that provides the perspectives of scholarship in gender studies and makes accessible the growing body of knowledge emerging from feminist thought. The program offers graduate students an opportunity to earn a Certificate in Gender Studies. Interested students would be a Masters or Ph.D. candidate in a home department at Northwestern, and would receive the certificate in Gender Studies once the requirements of the certificate had been completed.
Graduate Interdisciplinary Cluster Initiative
Graduate students in Humanities and related fields are encouraged to participate in the Interdisciplinary Cluster Initiative, a program designed to help graduate students during their academic career at Northwestern by fostering connections with students and faculty in other programs with whom they might have natural intellectual affinities. Interdisciplinary clusters in different areas of intellectual inquiry have been developed by faculty across schools and programs and will provide a second intellectual home for incoming and current graduate students. Clusters offer their own discrete courses as well as sponsor a number of activities and events for students and faculty. Students interested in pursuing dedicated interdisciplinary study should visit for more information about the intellectual activities of these programs. Prospective students have the opportunity to select on their application to graduate school the cluster with which they would like to affiliate, though choosing a cluster is not a requirement for admission. Students may affiliate with a cluster at any point during their study at Northwestern.
Clusters with more active connections to the sociology department are:
Need Expert Advice?
Our faculty advisers can help you select Sociology courses, even if Sociology isn't your major or minor.
Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching provides a variety of programs and workshops for graduate students and faculty interested in developing their teaching practices. In addition, the Searle Center offers a variety of programs for graduate students seeking to develop their skills as Teaching Assistant (TA) and instructor , such as, a yearly conference for new TA's, a teaching certificate program and fellowship opportunities.
Colloquium: Tianna Paschel, University of Chicago
April 24, 2014 • 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
Culture Workshop: Christopher Carroll, NU Sociology
April 24, 2014 • 3:30 PM - 5:30 PM