The central issue in sociology and anthropology is human variation—how our behavior is shaped by the company we keep and the cultural traditions from which we learn. Sociology and anthropology are distinct disciplines but they converge in important ways:
- both are very interested in how individual experience is shaped by the society we keep and the cultural traditions we inherit;
- both agree that culture is transmitted through social relations, and both disciplines agree that social relations are defined by culture; and
- both are fascinated by competing definitions of reality, in which reasonable people see the world in diametrically opposed ways.
All students who major in our department are Sociology and Anthropology Majors. Each student is free to focus on either discipline or neither. We offer a wide array of courses and every course we offer is comparative, in the sense of looking at the impact of culture and society in a range of contexts. But we also have a division of labor.
The anthropology side of our department contributes to international studies (we have two Latin Americanists, an Africanist, a China scholar and a Southwestern Asia scholar), human ecology, gender studies and ethnic studies. We are also building our capacity for what is called four-field anthropology; aside from our traditional focus of sociocultural anthropology, we offer courses in archaeology, physical anthropology and linguistic anthropology. The sociology side of our department includes courses on major institutions (e.g., punishment, education, religion, family life, gender, heterosexuality), significant social processes (e.g., identity formation, social movements, deviances), and experiences both in the United States and abroad (e.g., tourism).
Our core requirements for Sociology/Anthropology majors are as follows:
- SOAN 103 introduces students to culture and race, rituals and symbols, kinship systems, social evolution, political economy, sociolinguistics, identity and discourse through ethnographies of different cultures around the world.
- SOAN 105 introduces students to classical social theory via the study of Marx, Durkheim and Weber and the application of their insights to the contemporary world.
- SOAN 301 and SOAN 302 (students choose one) introduces them to quantitative and qualitative research methods including project formulation, basic techniques and research ethics.
- SOAN 305 and SOAN 306 (students choose one) introduces them to the evolution of theory in each discipline as well as contemporary debates.
- SOAN 400-level seminars focus students on a particular issue and enable them to produce a substantial research paper.
- SOAN 700 is a senior research project requiring one to three semesters, on a topic chosen by the student and in consultation with a faculty adviser.
To complete the major, students choose four electives which respond to the sundry agendas that they bring to SOAN. These include international development and human rights work, environmental studies, primary and secondary schoolteaching, medicine and public health, law and advocacy, psychology and social work. Because SOAN comprises two disciplines and attracts majors with such a wide array of interests, our learning goals must be formulated in broad terms.
We expect our students to learn:
- basic sociological and anthropological concepts;
- the centrality of class, race and gender in most situations;
- the value of comparative analysis;
- the need to evaluate all sources of information critically;
- the value of questioning received wisdom or common sense;
- research techniques that will enable them to pursue their own investigations in whatever field they choose.
Assessment Through our Majors' Senior Projects
Because SOAN includes two disciplines and attracts students who are taking many different educational paths, there is no single written test that could be used to evaluate their accomplishments or the departmental program. But we do evaluate each of our majors, and implicitly our departmental program, in our senior program. The Sociology/Anthropology Department is unusual at Middlebury College in that we have long required a senior project of all our students—the "capstone experience" which the college is now asking all departments and programs to develop. In SOAN our majors spend at least one semester engaged in research on a topic of their choice and produce a substantial paper reporting their results. It is through assessment of the senior projects that we will assess the extent to which we are accomplishing our learning goals.