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Talking about a revolution

Who We Are, What We Do: Department of Sociology

Student Life

By Janet Harron

Both assistant professor Liam Swiss and PhD candidate Paula Graham came to sociology from different backgrounds.

Dr. Swiss decided he wanted to further explore development through a research lens when he was working for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) following his MA. After receiving a master’s of philosophy in public policy at the University of New Brunswick, Ms. Graham came to sociology because she wanted to learn more theories and ideas about how the public, especially marginalized or oppressed people, participate in governance.

‘We need a revolution’

“So much of the research that goes on in our department shows how sociology gives you the skills and tools needed to understand the world and make relevant and evidence-based interventions to shape it.”—Dr. Liam Swiss

“Sociology is important because we’ve built a lot of social, economic and technological systems that are self-destructive to humanity and we need to get rid of them and build new ones,” said Ms. Graham, who is currently finalizing her PhD research in Halifax. “We need a revolution and I think sociology is a good place to start talking about that.”

For Dr. Swiss, who is currently the visiting research fellow at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, sociology is one of the most practical disciplines in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“I think one of the biggest misconceptions about sociology is that is only deals with abstract issues and problems disconnected from their real world context. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he explained. “So much of the research that goes on in our department shows how sociology gives you the skills and tools needed to understand the world and make relevant and evidence-based interventions to shape it.”

Among these  real-world researchers are Dr. Mark Stoddart, who is examining the linkage between tourism and coastal communities on Fogo Island; Dr. Max Libroiron, who is leading an interdisciplinary team monitoring marine plastics; University Research Professor Dr. Barb Neis, who runs SafetyNet, a community alliance dedicated to improving the safety of workplaces and the health of workers in Newfoundland and Atlantic Canada; and Dr. Nicole Power, who is the co-investigator with the national On the Move Partnership where she is looking at the issue of apprenticeships and gender.

Dr. Swiss and Ms. Graham appear together in Who We Are, What We Do: Sociology, the latest in a series of teaser videos produced by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and created by multihyphenate writer/videographer/rapper/producer and recent Memorial graduate Timo Sargent.

Among other things, the video showcases Ms. Graham’s stellar juggling skills; she maintains juggling is the perfect analogy for sociology.

“An undergraduate sociology student has to keep a lot of ideas and concepts in their hands and head at once, keeping them moving, and how they relate to each other,” she says. “They have to understand how these concepts look when we pull them apart and how they look when we put them together.”

Police studies

The sociology department now houses the police studies major, which is also profiled in a Who We Are, What We Do video. It features police studies program coordinator Dr. Alan Hall and student Jessica Locke, who explain that police studies is about the legal, political and social context in which police institutions and practices operate.

“Obviously, we want students to be able to place themselves in different roles,” said Dr. Hall whose research interests include labour unions. “Policing is not just about policing crime, it’s about public order.”

The sociology department is welcoming three new faculty members this fall, each of which will be offering new and exciting courses in the upcoming academic year. Rochelle Cote’s Indigenous in the City focuses on the experience of the urban Indigenous population; Lisa-Jo van den Scott will teach Sociology of Time; and Sean Waite will be offering Social Stratification through the lens of gender and sexuality.

For more information see the degree map for sociology and police studies, and visit the department’s website and Twitter feed.

Who We Are, What We Do is a summer series from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences featuring faculty and students discussing their discipline. The next installment of Who We Are, What We Do: Philosophy, launching August 20features faculty members Drs. Joel Maddore and John Geck and philosophy student Kyra Brunt.


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