What is Sociology?
Sociology is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts. The subject matter of sociology ranges from intimate family interactions to riots on city streets; from organized crime to religious traditions; from divisions of race, gender, and class to the shared beliefs of a common culture.
Although the humanities and arts also frequently examine the social world, sociology is distinct because it is a social science. As social scientists, sociologists use theoretical and scientific methods of research to investigate the social world by collecting, evaluating, and disseminating empirical research findings. Sociological methods include observations, interviews, content analysis, ethnography, conversational analysis, institutional analysis, survey research, and statistical analysis. The results of sociological research taking place at and beyond UVic contribute to public policy debates, the formation of laws, and the shaping of better ways of living.*
Sociologists at UVic conduct research on a broad range of contemporary sociological issues, including corporate capitalism and globalization, immigration, health, aging, surveillance, policing, social movements, sexuality, gender relations, street youth, and sex work.
At UVic Sociology, we encourage our students to develop skills through practical involvement with actual research activities. We also promote interdisciplinary research activities and public outreach, making the Department of Sociology a diverse and dynamic centre for applied sociological inquiry.
We offer comprehensive undergraduate General , Major , and Honours and graduate ( MA and PhD ) programs, with courses in sociological theory and method, as well as in the general areas of social inequality, political sociology, social movements, health, aging, and gender studies.
Students in the Honours Thesis Program are engaged in original, innovative, cutting-edge research. Each year Honours students conduct research on social issues ranging from policing and crime control to food production and the healthcare system.
This year’s Honours students have produced a set of fascinating theses. Below is an overview of the projects, a small comment on why they came to the Honours program, and an indication of future plans.
Click Honours Students' photos to learn about their research
The Icesave Dispute: An Archaeology of Iceland under Neoliberalism
I was given the opportunity to travel to Iceland in the summer of 2012 for fieldwork. I met with social activists who offered me their rich narratives of the Icelandic sociopolitical landscape's transformation. Following the global financial crisis of 2008, historical events from the small island nation of Iceland have generated much discussion in news media and academic discourse. With the overnight collapse of Iceland’s three largest banks, the Icelandic government negotiated a repayment deal for foreign depositors holding an “Icesave” account in the privately owned bank, Landsbanki. Unsatisfied with this repayment deal, grassroots mobilisation led to the collection of signatures for petitions that would influence their president to use his veto power to block two parliamentary repayment bills, putting Icesave repayments twice to referendum. Iceland has sparked particularly fierce financial, economic, and political debate, opening her story to a multiplicity of subjective interpretations, both internally and abroad. Given the uniquely heterodox approach of voting down repayment deals for the failed private banking sector, and the ostensibly dramatic developments that followed, most notably, perhaps, the creation of a new constitution, the “Icesave dispute” becomes a vantage point for understanding the (neoliberal) contexts, conditions and historical contingencies that would galvanise the citizens of Iceland, and also for deriving meaning from the various personal (and collective) wagers and stakes in Icesave's repayment.
A Semiotic Analysis of Pharmaceutical Marketing for Alzheimer’s Disease
My Honours essay research project investigates the pharmaceutical marketing of psychoactive drugs for Alzheimer’s disease. Pharmaceutical companies spend as much on marketing as they do on researching and developing the drugs they manufacture. Marketing to physicians takes several forms, including advertisements in medical journals, product monographs, and the use of sales representatives. Pharmaceutical companies also advertise indirectly to consumers by providing financial support to patient and caregiver support organizations to run educational campaigns on the benefits of drug treatment—these campaigns often feature physicians as lead spokespersons. Evidence suggests that pharmaceutical marketing effectively influences physician-prescribing practices while also increasing the number of patient self-initiated requests for drugs. My project investigates the influence of pharmaceutical marketing by looking into how drug advertisements in medical journals serve as an interpretive resource for physicians. This is being done using a critical discourse approach to analyze a systematically selected sample of advertisements for Alzheimer’s cholinesterase inhibitor drugs. The project draws on discursive and semiotic theory to demonstrate how these advertisements frame the social meaning of Alzheimer's Disease as an effectively treatable disease. Specifically, this study examines how these advertisements seek to influence physician prescribing by translating clinical trial outcomes into powerful narratives of hope, improvement, and patient satisfaction.
The World Bank and Social Inequality in Brazil and Argentina: Examining the Discourse of ‘Freedom from Poverty’
My research focuses on social inequality and its implications for population health in South America, particularly in Brazil and Argentina. As the World Bank has recently become the largest non-governmental financier of health and social programs in the developing world, it holds a great deal of clout in structuring how social determinants of health projects are carried out, particularly in Brazil and Argentina. I am performing a critical discourse analysis on social inequality policy documents produced by the World Bank for development projects in Brazil and Argentina. With this analysis, I will evaluate the effectiveness of World Bank social determinant programs and policies which aim to tackle social inequality and improve the health of the poor in these nations. I pay particular attention to the influence of broader national and global-level political-economic restructuring, examining to what extent the health of the disadvantaged will be improved by the particular social-inequality mitigating efforts of the World Bank, within this context.
The Integration of Former Militants to Civil Society: Guatemala
My Honours project aims to put a human face on the academic literature concerned with Latin American revolutionary and social movements. I take a historical sociological approach to explain the context of the revolutionary movement in Guatemala. Using qualitative data analysis techniques, I demonstrate how my experiential qualitative data add to existing scholarship on Guatemala, social movements, and revolutions. I am to show how the experience of the participants in the movements can be viewed as beneficial and important to future academic work.
I came to the Honours program because I wanted to conduct quality academic work on a topic that was important to me. I also thought that it would be beneficial to work closely with a faculty member in order to get a feel for how higher level academic work is done. I have gained many things from the Honours Program: a very strong knowledge base on Latin America, and Guatemala, refined my research and writing skills. I also think that being in the Honours program has opened doors for my future, as is the case with being accepted to Columbia University. I would have never considered it an option without the work I did while in the Honours program.
After completing my Honours thesis, I will enter the Masters Program in Latin American Studies at Columbia University or Stanford University. My broader aim is to prepare for a career in international law with a focus on Latin America. Law school in Canada or the U.S. will be the step after completing my Masters.
Representations of Masculinity in the Virtual World: A Cyberethnography of Second Life
I am investigating the virtual world of Second Life, specifically users’ perceptions of masculine gender identity. My research entails ethnographic and phenomenological methods. The motivation behind my research is the relative lack of literature on virtual identities, as well as a desire to engage with widely varying participant experiences within rapidly expanding virtual worlds. I believe that this project will contribute to a small but growing body of sociological knowledge on the social relevance of Second Life and other virtual spaces. My broader aim is to use the findings to inform a similar, albeit larger Masters-level project.
I joined the Honours program to challenge myself academically and to acquire valuable research skills by undertaking an undergraduate research project. Although my undergraduate experience at UVic has been a rewarding one, by the end of my third year I wanted to experience research first hand by pursuing my own specific areas of interest. Since I plan to apply for admission to the UVic Sociology Masters program after my undergraduate degree, I wanted to develop the skills necessary to produce original research and to write a thesis while working closely with a faculty supervisor. I have found the Honours program to be a very rewarding experience; the thesis writing and research process has helped me to develop practical skills and academic experience that will be extremely valuable if I am accepted into the Masters program. Another beneficial feature of the Honours program is not only working with faculty and staff within the sociology department and making excellent professional connections, but also having a cohort of other Honours students in the program with whom I now have not only productive working relationships, but also great personal friendships.
Outside Accountability: The Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Textual Organization of Surveillance
For my Honours research, I am exploring representations of the everyday institutional practices of Canada’s domestic security intelligence apparatus generally and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in particular. The aim is to empirically engage with the theoretical and conceptual claims of Surveillance Studies, Security Intelligence Studies, and Critical Security Studies. Methodologically, I examine two disparate yet intersecting registers of text. First, an investigation of the “official discourse”, achieved through an analysis of annual reports produced by CSIS’s external accountability mechanism, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). Second, an investigation of the confidential “internal discourse”, garnered from SIRC using Canada’s federal Access to Information Act. I approached these texts using a theoretically-driven coding scheme coupled with the analytic techniques of discourse analysis, paying particular attention to the way CSIS’s surveillance-related practices were represented throughout.
In the future, I hope to continue pursuing a similar line of academic inquiry at the graduate level (in a sociology or criminology program).
Being enrolled in the Honours program has been, without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of my undergraduate studies. What truly brought me to it was the prospect of being able to work independently on a project of my own choosing. Since the program started in September, I have had the Honour of working under the guidance of my extremely helpful supervisor, Dr. Kevin Walby. Receiving one-on-one attention and in-depth constructive feedback from a professor is one of the most valuable elements of the Honours program. The level of self-improvement this kind relationship breeds is not to be found in the rigid structure of the traditional university course. Being able to interact with the other Honours students in the seminar and elsewhere has also been a great opportunity that would not have been possible without the program.
Exploring the Adolescent Grandchild’s Experience of Providing Homecare to a Grandparent
The purpose of my research is to study how providing at-home care to older adult family members (grandparents) affects grandchildren. When grandchildren are included in the caregiving literature they tend to be adults and primary caregivers. This project uses a phenomenological approach to understand the lived realities of 4 young adults (between the ages of 21-30) who had had a grandparent live with them while participants were under the age of 18. Participants were interviewed and asked a set of questions. The answers they have given provide a retrospective account of their experience, which I will examine through grounded theory and the life course perspective. This aim of this research is to fill a gap in the current literature, which fails to examine the effects of home care on non-primary caregivers and provides a better understanding of adolescent grandchildren’s lived experience with providing at-home-care
I chose to do the Honours program after attending last years Honours presentations. I believe that the Honours program provided me with an excellent opportunity to create and conduct my own research project as well as helped prepare me for my future graduate studies. Participating in the program has offered me a great chance to experience what graduate studies are like while still being an undergraduate student. Although I am writing an Honours paper focused in the health and aging field, I am not pursuing a concentration in that area of study. As of yet, I remain undecided in what area of sociology I would like to focus my graduate studies on. I will be content in whatever area of sociology I choose to pursue so long as I can provide useful knowledge that assists in the everyday lives of others and I am able to do so through collecting and analyzing first hand data.
*This definition of sociology is based on the one appearing in 21st Century Careers with an Undergraduate Degree in Sociology, American Sociological Association, 2009.