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Areas of Specialization

Family sociologists explore the ways in which families are affected by the social structures and cultural contexts in which they are embedded, and in turn, how families affect individuals’ well-being. Faculty members in this specialization study a wide array of topics that span the adult life course, including the impact of relationship quality with family members on psychological well-being, physical health and health behaviors, the influence of marriage and fertility on women's status, health, and well-being in sub-Saharan Africa, patterns and consequences of parental favoritism, caregiving to older family members, sibling relationships in adulthood, and the ways in which paid work has the potential to support or harm families.

Training in this area emphasizes theoretical and methodological advances in the study of families, using quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods approaches, and involves close collaboration with faculty mentors to create new scholarship. 

The Health, Aging, and the Life Course area focuses on the many ways in which social structures and social processes intertwine to shape human development and health over the life course. Faculty members in this specialization study a diverse set of topics that include childhood health, drug use, sexual behaviors, fertility, parent-adult child relations, family caregiving, health inequalities, and health in later years. Training in this area emphasizes theoretical developments from both micro and macro sociological perspectives, methodological advances that draw on quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods approaches, and close collaboration with faculty on their research. Many faculty and students in this area are affiliated with Purdue’s Center on Aging and the Life Course which offers an interdisciplinary graduate minor in gerontology as well as a dual title Ph.D. in Sociology and Gerontology. 

The study of law has been central to sociology since the beginning of the discipline, and for good reason. What a society decides to call a crime or presumes is deviant behavior, how it exacts punishment, and the nature of its courts and legal profession are important in their own right and also provide key windows into the broader society. For example, it is impossible to understand fully how business organizations operate nor the characteristics and health of a democracy (or any other political system), nor the nature and extent of social inequalities, including those of race, class and gender, nor how people think about fairness, justice, their broader culture or even themselves without some knowledge of law.

With a critical mass of faculty specializing in the sociology of law and/or criminology and deviance, Purdue Sociology’s Law and Society program offers both breadth and depth. Emphasizing coursework, one-on-one mentoring, and research opportunities that prepare students to succeed in the job market, the program enables graduate students to develop their own research and teaching skills in the sociology of law and criminology. As well, the Purdue Program emphasizes the links between these areas of specialization and other areas of study in the program, including inequality (race class and gender), politics and social movements, the family and life-course, work and organizations, religion, and social psychology. Faculty members have expertise in a large number of quantitative and qualitative methods, and some have formal legal training to complement their sociological expertise. 

The study of social inequality is arguably the most fundamental area of sociological investigation. This research area centers on broad categorical distinctions, such as class, gender, race/ethnicity, and sexuality, and how they emerge, change, and structure opportunities, experiences, and identities. Scholars in the area are currently exploring a diverse array of topics, including crime, health, immigration, religion, and work, utilizing an equally diverse set of theoretical lenses and methodological tools. The Social Inequality area aims to provide students with a broad overview of the field, its development, and current debates. 

The Department of Sociology at Purdue has a strong cluster of faculty doing research in the areas of social movements and political sociology. We draw on a diverse set of methodologies, cases, and theoretical perspectives in our work, which focuses on mobilization and political change in the U.S. and internationally. Our faculty and students have received funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, published in the field's top journals, and presented our work at conferences around the world. Some of our undergraduate students have gone on to study social movements and political sociology at the graduate level at Purdue as well as other universities, including Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Indiana University. 

The sociology of religion uses the tools and methods of social science to understand 1) the nature of religious belief and practice and its implications for individual and social behavior, 2) the ways in which religious ideas, subcultures, and organizations influence many other aspects of society (for example, gender, sexuality, demography, family, politics, social class, race, crime, law, etc.) and 3) the ways in which these other aspects of society act back on religion (e.g., the religious beliefs and practices of individuals, the rise and decline of different kinds of religious groups, and the changing position and influence of religion in different societies).

Our faculty draw on a mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches to study a diverse range of topics. A sampling of these topics currently includes religion in East Asia (our department houses the Center on Religion and Chinese Society and the Review of Religion and Chinese Society), immigrant religion, religious conversion as a way of illuminating the nature of human identity and the connections of human identity to cultural practice and social relationships, and the ways that the religious composition of geographic areas (the types of religions and non-religion found in different cities, counties, states, and countries) influences local subcultures. 

The work and organizations area explores how work is structured, how it changes, and how it is experienced in society. Work is a fundamental social domain in all societies; it is how humans transform their environments to meet their needs. However, the collective goals and needs, the organization of work, and the conditions and compensation of work are socially determined. In contemporary societies, work occurs in a variety of settings — but most commonly in formal organizations. Understanding work in contemporary societies often requires a critical analysis of the organizations in which work commonly occurs.

Faculty in this area study a broad range of topics including: (1) inequalities in wages and compensation, (2) employment relations (nonstandard employment, work schedules), (3) access to and behavior in leadership positions, (4) hiring practices and employment discrimination, (5) and organizational responses to legal mandates and environments. Faculty who study work and organizations often uncover phenomena that are relevant for other specialty areas, including family, gender, education, and social inequality. Students have many opportunities to work with faculty in this area and are expected to develop a broad understanding of the theory and research in this subfield.