Skip to main content
Skip to McMaster Navigation Skip to Site Navigation Skip to main content
McMaster logo
COVID-19 information and updates

Find the most recent updates here, as well as FAQs and information for students, faculty and staff.

Sociology is the study of individuals and groups in patterned behaviors.

We study social processes and social institutions in areas such as the family, education, health, social inequality, immigration and race and ethnic relations, paid and unpaid work and politics. The goal of sociology is to help explain the relationship between our personal experiences and the wider organization of society.

Welcome to Sociology

Sociologists play a key role in analyzing and interpreting important concerns that impact individuals, communities and society as a whole.  The faculty in the Sociology Department offer a wide range of research and knowledge expertise to students who share an interest in better understanding the social processes and institutions we live within.

Dr. Fetner, Chair of the Sociology Department, offers research focused on social and political change as it relates to sexuality.  This includes social movements, policies, changing attitudes and social and institutional supports for LGBTQ people. Her current research is on the sexual behaviours and social attitudes of Canadian adults.

Tina Fetner, Chair of the Department of Sociology

Learn more about the Chair

The Department of Sociology has a dynamic research program.

Areas of Focus

Gender, Sexuality & Family
Investigate the ways in which gender, sexuality, and family relationships shape individuals’ experiences and are, in turn, shaped by broader structural forces, like the nation-state and globalization.

Political Sociology, Social Movements, & Social Policy
Explore the nature, dynamics and interacting influences of culture, politics, protest movements, electoral institutions and policy options using both theoretical and methodological approaches.

Race, Ethnicity, & Immigration
Study how racial, ethnic, and national identities are constructed and enacted, their measurement and content, and patterns of immigration and immigrant integration. Major areas of focus include Indigenous politics and reconciliation.

Social Inequality
What are the causes and consequences of social inequality? The study of social inequality brings together work in health, education, incomes, gender and sexuality, families, race and ethnicity, organizations, and meaning-making.

Social Psychology
Focus on self-conceptions and identity and the ways that social structure and culture shape emotions, social cognition, the negotiating of meaning in everyday life, small group dynamics, as well as the personal consequences of social inequality. For undergraduate students, please visit the Honours Social Psychology Program to learn more. 

Sociology of Work & Occupations
Discover the core social institutions in modern society and addresses the study of changing economies, forms of inequality, and the social organization of work.

More on our Research

Our Programs:

Undergraduate Program

We offer a wide variety of courses in such areas as culture, deviance, education, family, gender, ethnic and race relations, health and health care, media, methods, occupations, organizations, theory, sexualities, social inequality, technologies, and work. We emphasize experiential learning, inquiry-based learning, and problem-based learning in many of our courses.

Students who graduate with a BA in sociology are employable in many professional and managerial fields, as well as being well prepared to go on to graduate school in many different areas of study. A number of undergraduate students are hired as research assistants to help out on faculty research projects, or as teaching assistants in first-year sociology. 

Undergraduate Programs

Graduate Program

The Department of Sociology at McMaster University offers a graduate experience that fosters close mentorship with faculty members who are leading scholars in the fields of Gender, Sexuality and Family; Political Sociology, Social Movements and Social Policy; Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration; Social Inequality; Social Psychology; and Sociology of Work and Occupations.

The program emphasizes the importance of good scholarship and trains students in current developments in the field of Sociology in Canada and internationally.

Graduate Programs

Historical Background: A Profile of our Department (1999)

by: Dr. Frank E. Jones, Professor Emeritus and Doctor of Laws, honoris causa

Courses in Sociology were not widely offered in Canadian universities before the late 1950s.

McGill University was a notable exception. It established a Department of Sociology, in conjunction with a School of Social Work, in 1922. In due course, McGill offered an Honours BA and an MA in sociology. At the University of Toronto, the Department of Political Economy made appointments in the 1920s with responsibilities to offer courses in sociology, and established, in 1938, a Sociology section, led by S.D. Clark. Until the late 1960s, the University of Toronto offered the only Ph.D. programme in Canada.

In the early 1950s, proposals for an appointment of a trained sociologist at McMaster were under discussion . The outcome was a serious commitment to sociology with the appointment of C.A. Dawson (PHD, University of Chicago), as a Visiting Professor for the 1954-55 academic year. Professor Dawson, founder of the Department of Sociology at McGill University and where he taught until his retirement, was widely known in Canada and the US. He was to serve as a consultant on the development of sociology at McMaster.

The development quite was rapid. Frank E. Jones, a McGill and Harvard trained sociologist was appointed in 1955, followed, in 1957, by Frank Vallee, a McGill and University of London social anthropologist, and in 1959 by Peter C. Pineo, a UBC, McGill and University of Chicago anthropologist and sociologist. All these new appointees were quick to initiate research, Jones studying aspects of immigration and the social organization of mental wards, Vallee in the Arctic to study the Inuit, and Pineo focused on the family. There was a fair degree of harmony in their theoretical orientations. The Department of Sociology was established in 1958. In this early period, three-year (Pass) programme in sociology was established, followed by a four-year (Honours) programme in 1959-60.

A MA programme was established in 1961-62 and a Ph.D. programme in 1967-68. The Ontario Government certified three areas for the PHD program: Individual and Society, Class, Status, and Power (now Social Inequality), and Occupations and Organizations. Besides these general areas, the department has offered more specialized concentrations in such areas as: aging, deviance, development, education, family, health care, ideology and popular culture, political sociology, race and ethnic relations, theory, religion, research methods, social stratification, and, women.

Additional appointments were made in the 1960s. And with them, came greater diversity in courses and in theoretical orientation. The sociology curriculum expanded and was enriched by courses in social anthropology. In the mid-1960s, the Department, strengthened by appointments of anthropologists, was renamed the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and undergraduate and graduate programmes in anthropology were established.

The MA in sociology, in addition to recruits from our Honours programme, attracted students from elsewhere in Canada and from Great Britain and Europe. As Canadian students were more research-oriented and experienced while the British and the European students more versed in theory, members of each group had much to learn from each other. Several of our MAs continued study for the PhD at other universities, primarily in the US.

The PHD programme established in 1968, provided greater diversity in theoretical orientations and research interests via further faculty appointments and by the presence of a considerable mix in the backgrounds of our PHD candidates. Some from Africa, Great Britain and from Europe, from the US, and, of course, from across Canada.

Intellectual diversity and conflicts of ideas were the order of the day. Both spilled over into different conceptions of department structure. By 1974, the number of anthropologists appointed was sufficient to allow the creation of a Department of Anthropology and the original department to resume as the Department of Sociology.

The graduate programmes supported the research orientation of the Department, an orientation that has persisted to the present. Talcott Parsons, Paul Lazarsfeld, Howard Becker, and Irving Louis Horowitz were among the many scholarly visitors who came for stays of varying length to lecture and lead seminars.

Although the growth of the faculty continued into the mid-70s. There followed a period of stability and then eventual decline as the University faced reduced funding. Currently, the faculty numbers 18, in contrast to 30 in 1979. Nevertheless, 64 sociology courses were offered in 1998-1999 and undergraduate enrolments included 480 Pass and 219 Honours students. Twenty-one and thirty-one, respectively, were enrolled in the MA and PHD programmes. We look forward with optimism to the 21st Century.