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Arts & Science News

Forecasting 2017 and Beyond: Sociology

A&S News asked some Faculty leaders what’s ahead in their fields in 2017 and beyond.

Here’s what the head of our sociology department, Scott Schieman, sees coming soon.

Photo of Scott Schieman in front of tall buildings in downtown Toronto

Scott Schieman, Professor and Chair
Department of Sociology

Understanding society in an increasingly global context

We are increasingly studying social patterns that move beyond the confines of a single nation state. Immigration and the movement of peoples more generally have been important topics of study for the last decade, but are growing even more so as migration increases and as nationalist impulses have spurred a reaction. Migration dynamics will remain an important area of study for 2017 and the near future. The Department’s Centre for Global Social Policy brings together researchers who study global issues both in terms of policy frameworks and in terms of interactions between people across boundaries. Led by Professor Ito Peng, the Centre houses several projects that interrogate the intersection of gender, migration and the work of care. These range from an investigation of parental carework among Syrian refugees in Canada to studies of international governance frameworks for migrant domestic workers.

In addition to the study of international migration, we are also seeing growth in the study of international interactions between institutions. Professor Kim Pernell, for instance, studies the regulatory frameworks in banking and how, though governed by international agreements, nonetheless resulted in different outcomes in the global financial crisis of the late 2000s. Likewise, Professor Irene Boeckmann asks how public policies around parental leave reflect both their local context and international trends. Whatever the focus of study, we are increasingly looking at interactions beyond national boundaries – either by comparing and contrasting social and policy environments or by studying the linkages and social networks across boundaries.

Big data is having a big impact on research

We live in an age with unprecedented access to data about social patterns. Research in sociology is increasingly bringing together large sets of data to answer pressing questions about how society functions. The University of Toronto has a strong reputation for studying the social by analyzing quantitative datasets, and the opportunities available with new data are pushing us into new frontiers. Some of this involves combining international datasets; some of it involves studying social network and consumption patterns to understand social movements and the ways that we organize into groups. In conducting computational social science, we are forging new ground in seeking to understand causal dynamics to explain social patterns such as the effects of neighbourhood on educational attainment and health that we have previously only been able to observe.

Understanding inequality

Inequality touches all of our lives. Sociologists have long sought to understand and explain its causes and repercussions at both interpersonal and group levels. The study of inequality will have renewed relevance as inequalities between groups continue to have political and social implications in Canada and elsewhere. Inequality must be approached both from a macro perspective seeking to understand global trends that span large populations and from a micro perspective studying the practical health, work and social implications of inequality for all of us.

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