Sociology and Criminology

Public Sociology

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The Department of Sociology and Criminology offers outstanding undergraduate and graduate education in Sociology and Criminology. Among our strengths includes our Public Sociology option in the major.

Sociology is Public Sociology when it includes the following:

  1. A sociological theoretical framework for outlining the nature of the social problem being addressed.
  2. A current and comprehensive examination of the sociological literature on the social problem.
  3. Sociological research methods either developing empirical measure or analyzing empirical evidence (quantitatively or qualitatively, official sources and ethnographic sources, etc) exploring the nature of the social problem.
  4. Dissemination in conventional scholarly outlets (peer-reviewed journals, university or academic press publishers, etc.) as well as dissemination for broader public use (such as testimony to Congress, or presentation to the City Council,) to advocate for a sociologically-informed solution to the social problem.

As scholars who are engaged in public sociology work, we identify the social problems we wish to explore by understanding the existing sociological research on the topic (we do our literature reviews to get a disciplinary handle on the sources, nature, and scope of the problem) and we explore the existing theoretical frameworks that shape our approach to collecting and analyzing data in our public sociology projects. Dissemination of these findings to the publics we study is critical. We may develop policy recommendations based on the engaged scholarship of the problem, or help community leaders and organizers work toward a project's goals.

Public Sociology is not inherently politically liberal or conservative. We define our "publics" broadly, and include local, national, and global issues. While no faculty member in this department is required to do public sociology, we support, endorse, and value those who do while also maintaining our very strong support for traditional sociology and the scholarly enterprise therein. In all of our scholarly work, we embrace intellectually rigorous research and high academic standards. This framework informs our peers in the discipline, our personnel evaluations, and the shape of our undergraduate and graduate curricula. Our public sociology classes follow this model and include student involvement in theory, research, and dissemination.

Because we are a Sociology and Criminology Department, we translate this to Criminology as well. In a recent special issue of Theoretical Criminology (Volume 11, number 2) devoted to exploring Public Criminology the contributors to that volume clearly see the value in supporting Public Criminology. We are comfortable applying the above framework to Criminology for those who are interested in developing in that direction as well.


Public Sociology involves taking sociology beyond the boundaries of the university: it is a sociology that "seeks to bring sociology to publics beyond the academy, promoting dialogue about issues that affect the fate of society" (Burawoy 2004). In the Public Sociology Program, students learn how to use sociology to inform real life social issues.

The Public Sociology option requires a two semester sequential course offering: SOC 391 is taken in the fall semester where students identify a research topic to examine in the spring semester. This course includes writing a literature review and a research design to be implemented in the following spring. This course is immediately followed by SOC 496 in the spring semester. This is a semester-long practicum (6 credit hours) in which students gain hands-on experience in applying sociology methods and theory by working in partnership with local community agencies and organizations and residents to address, through scholarly engagement, a critical social problem in the area. Students present their research findings at the end of the spring semester to City Council and other relevant organizations, as well as at our annual Public Sociology Community Breakfast Research Symposium, every May.

Go to our Public Sociology and Public Criminology Cluster Studies page for more information about the projects faculty and students are working on throughout the year.