Sociology Spring 2022 Elective Course Descriptions

See VCU Bulletin for full course descriptions.


The climate crisis is a complex global problem, with terrifying implications for all living things on this planet. However, a perception that the climate crisis is too complex can prevent meaningful action. This course will empower students to confront the root causes of the climate crisis today, by developing an understanding of the social, political, and cultural dimensions of global climate change. We will investigate some of the main axes of debate among political activists and organizations around the world seeking to produce a more just life and planet for humans and nonhumans alike. Although we will discuss the basic scientific parameters of climate change and its connections to food, water, energy, ecology, and urbanism, our primary focus will be on strategies being explored (and fought for) to transform these systems. We will pay particular attention to how Black, migrant, Indigenous peoples, workers, and folks in the Global South are leading the world in developing innovative and socially just solutions to climate change. Listening and learning from these marginalized voices is a crucial first step in fighting back against the apathy, nihilism, and fear that pervade discussions of the climate crisis in the Global North.


This course is designed to provide you with a broad framework by which to understand the nature and origin of some of the social problems experienced in the United States, as well as the philosophical and value debates that underlie those problems. Although the U.S. will be our primary focus, we will also consider issues globally.  By the end of the course, you should understand why the U.S. experiences the kinds of social problems that it does, what progress on these would entail, and how that progress might be achieved.


A socio-historical examination of the development of the family system of Americans from Africa.  Focuses on large-scale (macro-level) processes such as changes in the major mode of economic production and in political systems and the corresponding changes in black family structure and functioning.  Presents the theoretical material on African-American families and social changes that prepares students for further study of the family as a social institution and for the study of family policy.


This course invites students to explore the causes and consequences of economic inequality. Students analyze the complex dynamics of social mobility, class, status and power through intersectional frameworks, considering how race, gender, disability and other dimensions of identity and experience inform and complicate systemic economic inequalities. Students interrogate how economic inequalities take shape and are socially reproduced, while brainstorming interventions for reducing these inequalities. 


This course examines how race and racism shape the political economy of our society. Race and racism are major vehicles for organizing where we live, how we live, and how well we will live. The course is very U.S.-centric. It spans the development of the idea of "race" as an assumption that gives meaning to racial categories. It quickly moves into the post-World War II era where covert practices of racial discrimination are ascendant. Finally, the course deals with how race and racism are transmuting in a digital society. The course uses a lot of case studies, is a reading and writing-intensive course, and is a complement to other department offerings in inequality as well as courses across the college in difference and justice.


You will be using your sociological imagination to analyze not only the differences between urban and rural societies but also the consequential relationships between the two. Concepts covered will include culture and identity, demographic changes, rural systems and structure, health, politics, and social change. We will try to incorporate most rural regions in the United States, but an emphasis will be given to the Appalachian region, rural Virginia, and the South. *Your class time will be spent applying core sociological concepts and theories through lectures, media, and in- and out-of-class activities.


The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the study of urban society. We will examine the development of cities (historical), the rise of cities (modern), and the contemporary conditions of cities. We will utilize our sociological perspective and our cultural tool kits to examine the spatial (build environment) and social interaction of people in cities. Topics covered include classic urban sociological theories, post-industrial urban economies, urban social networks, suburbanization, segregation, poverty, crime, subcultures, schooling, and public policy. The course will focus on U.S. cities with selected comparisons to Western Europe. The course assumes no background in urban sociology, but basic knowledge of classical sociological theory (Marx, Weber, Durkheim) and basic social science methods would be helpful.  


South Africa and the United States are like "two trains running," to borrow the title of one drama created by America's great playwright, August Wilson.  These two countries occasionally traveled parallel historical tracks, arriving at the same station at the same time. At other moments one of these countries raced ahead while the other stalled.  This course explores the two side-by-side national journeys, focusing on the comparative processes shaping 20th-century South Africa and the United States and their civil rights activism.

From the 1940s to 1970s, resistance movements opposing racial discrimination changed the schedule of the two trains, as activists in South Africa and the United States recognized that they shared experience in common: white supremacy. By the 1980s, sweeping protests against white-minority rule in South Africa had emerged in the United States, especially on campuses and in churches, and outside legislatures.  The demonstrators joined hands with fellow South Africans to oppose a transnational system of Jim Crow called Apartheid. Our seminar focuses on these remarkable moments of national and global social mobilization.  We read memoirs and works of scholarship analyzing the paths of anti-racist struggles in both countries and develop research projects probing the extent to which freedom fighters in South Africa and the United States were able to create more inclusive and equitable societies.


This course critically explores the social construction of gender in contemporary society. From a sociological perspective, gender is viewed as the ways in which society organizes individuals into female and male categories and attaches meanings to those categories (meanings that change over time and across societies). We live in a society where gender is created, defined, and redefined on a daily basis.  Throughout the semester, we will critically analyze how gender operates in various institutional settings, including the economy, the family, and the media. Fundamental to our exploration of gender will be an exploration of the ways one’s gendered experience is mediated by race, class, and sexual orientation. This course will allow you to relate your everyday gendered experiences to the course material, thereby illustrating how pervasive gender is in the way we organize our social life. We will additionally analyze how sexuality is shaped by social norms, values, and expectations, and thus, as with the concept of gender, socially constructed.


This class provides an examination of violence against women from a global and a local perspective with a primary focus on violence against women in the United States. The course will address sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, sex trafficking, and sexual harassment. Much of the material will focus on violence in the lives of adult women. An examination of definitions, methodologies, interventions and prevention will be included in this course. In terms of prevention, the role of men in the movement will be presented. While intimate partner and sexual violence perpetrated against men will be included in the course the focus will be on violence against women.


This course is designed to challenge EVERYTHING you think you know about the human condition. It will provide an in-depth analysis of the human experience from a Social Psychology perspective. The primary focus of this course is the human mind and how it influences everything we think, feel and do. We will explore a variety of social psychological theories, theorists, and concepts that both inform and challenge our understanding of the human condition. I encourage you to either enter this course with an open mind or allow it to be opened during the semester. Otherwise, it is going to be upsetting! In addition, this course is demanding in the sense that it will require you to do some reading, a lot of reflecting, and a lot of informal writing (i.e. minute papers, journaling, discussion forums).


This course explores the relationship between nature and society through the lens of environmental sociology.  There is an overarching theme of environmental justice and intersectional understandings of the human-nature relations. Plants and people, community gardens, environmental racism, expert knowledge and environmentalism, risks and hazards, conservation movement, radical environmentalism 


This course will explore the construction of a life beginning at adolescence – a project that takes a lifetime.  We are each a work-in-progress and in contemporary Western culture, adolescence is particularly fraught in terms of identity formation within the US institutions, specifically education and criminal justice.  In order to understand the important role adolescence plays for the individual and society at large, this course is divided into three broad themes: construction, identity, and body.

SOCY 391-902: TOPIC: COMPARATIVE SOCIAL JUSTICE (formerly Forging Cultural Resilience)

Using a Participatory Action Research framework, this service-learning class (requires 20 hours of service-learning project participation), links students from VCU, the Richmond Community and youth in Mphophomeni SA in a shared conversation, as they explore the nature of resilience in two communities affected by a historic transition from racial segregation to inclusive democracy.  Both places share similar oppression and exclusion under slavery/Jim Crow and Apartheid, and resistance/triumph leading to the current post-Civil Right/post-Apartheid periods. However, for many, the full realization and promises of democracy remain unfulfilled, from isolation and food deserts in Richmond’s east end to gripping poverty and constrained opportunity in SA townships and isolated homelands in KZN. The course and associated readings, discussions, and projects will facilitate a cross-cultural/multidisciplinary examination of social stratification, access, and opportunities in both nation-states.  We hope that a shared and global dialogue, oriented to both the micro (individual realities/identity) and macro (democratic movements); inclusive of active learning practices (community engagement, reflection, and creative projects), will increase understanding and problem-solving in a creative way. Our hope is that these active learning strategies and reflection will lead to deeper and new understandings of not only our histories and realities, but will also engender problem-solving, solutions, and the envisioning of a new and inclusive future that is both local and global. 


This course explores issues surrounding the disparities in morbidity and mortality experienced by racial/ethnic minority groups, including the impact of structural racism, socioeconomic status, legal status, neighborhood conditions, and access to health care. Also examines potential strategies for working toward health equity. 


This course is an undergraduate-level introduction to the study of aging and the life course. The life course paradigm and subsequent research is interdisciplinary by nature and design, however in this course we will focus on the sociological contributions to life course research. Utilizing the life course perspective, we will focus and examine the life course theoretical perspective and research specific to older adulthood. As such, the goal of the course is to foster an understanding of aging and old age as a characteristic of both individuals and societies.  The reading material and lectures will present a broad overview of the social‑psychological, social structural, and cultural factors that shape the individual's experience of old age, and the consequences that an aging population has for social institutions.  The in-class portion of this course is organized as a lecture based seminar.  I will provide an overview of the week’s readings, but instruction will also take place in the context of student discussions and exchanges focused on the readings.


This course explores issues surrounding the disparities in morbidity and mortality experienced by racial/ethnic minority groups, including the impact of structural racism, socioeconomic status, legal status, neighborhood conditions, and access to health care. Also examines potential strategies for working toward health equity. 



This course will explore the relationship between the family, society, and how the institutions of marriage and the family have adapted to fulfill the needs of an ever-changing social structure.  This course will make you more aware of the personal choices you make and how those choices are affected by the social structure around you; also you will gain a better understanding of yourself, your particular family situation, and romantic lives.


A study of the variety of the forms, sources and consequences of human sexual behaviors and the attitudes, beliefs and values associated with them. The data and its analysis are directed to the significance of sex in the human experience.

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