Stanford University

News Service



CONTACT: Kathleen O'Toole, News Service (650) 725-1939;

New faculty change specifics but not mission of sociology department

When David Grusky was promoted to full professor in Stanford's sociology department last fall, some of his colleagues looked around and realized that only three of them had been at Stanford more than his 10 years.

Stanford's sociology department, which is ranked seventh in the nation, is a small place even when compared to other social science departments at the university, said Nancy Tuma, the chair and a department veteran of 25 years.

"We have 12 faculty in 10 faculty positions. Harvard is the only other department in the top 10 that is even approximately as small," she said. At Stanford, political science, psychology and economics are all much larger.

It is not surprising then that a few retirements have dramatically altered at least the outward face of sociology in the past three years. While eight emeriti faculty are mainly still active in research and some occasionally teach courses, Tuma said, newcomers have altered many aspects of how the department pursues its intellectual mission.

The newest full professors:

  • Mark Granovetter, who came in the fall of 1995 from Northwestern, is a specialist in economic sociology and social networks. Active in the university's new Social Science History Institute, he looks at how the shape of industries are influenced by people and organizations, and not just by their products and technology.

  • C. Matthew Snipp, who came in the fall of 1996 from the University of Wisconsin, is an expert in social stratification or the inequalities in societies, one of the traditional strengths of Stanford's sociology department. A demographer, Snipp focuses mainly on race and ethnicity, factors that are correlated with class and income inequality in the United States and other countries, but less of a central focus in stratification studies at Stanford in the past.

  • Andrew Walder, who joined the department last fall from Harvard, is a scholar focusing on China, especially on its economic institutions, organizations and social stratification. He was jointly appointed to the faculty of the sociology department and the university's Institute for International Studies.

The department also has recently added two junior faculty:

  • Elisa Bienenstock, who came in 1996 from the University of North Carolina, does research on social networks, the social psychology of small groups and game theory.

  • Bob Freeland, who came last fall from Columbia, is completing a book on General Motors that looks at the corporation's changing organizational strategies and practices over time.

Department emeriti include Joseph Berger, Bernard Cohen, Sanford Dornbusch, Alex Inkeles, Dudley Kirk, S. Martin Lipset, James March and Morris Zelditch.

The field of sociology at Stanford has changed over time, with less emphasis on laboratory experiments and more on survey techniques than when the department was formed here in the early 1960s. Yet the basic concern with the group context of human action and with understanding why and how societies and social groups operate has remained unchanged on the abstract level at Stanford, Tuma said.

"Sociology has an extremely broad mission. Because we have a small set of faculty to carry it out, our strategy has been to be very good at what we do and recognize we can't do everything," she said. "I think we are strong in theory, especially theoretical analysis and research design and methodology."

Tuma's own work involves understanding the social stratification within countries undergoing an economic transition from socialism to capitalism. She directs a longitudinal study of young adults in the former Soviet Union partly funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research. "We have or are in the process of getting data from last year on eight countries that were in different parts of the Soviet Union and are now going in different directions."

Other long-term members of the department are John Meyer, who looks at the world system; W. Richard Scott, who studies medical organizations; and Elizabeth Cohen, a social psychologist who primarily works in the School of Education, where she studies inequality in classrooms and educational institutions.

Gender inequality is a subject that overlaps other interests of several of the department's faculty, Tuma said, because "gender is a dimension on which you find members of a society stratified." Cecilia Ridgeway, the previous chair, studies the social psychology of small groups, but with a strong focus on their gender stratification. At the opposite end of the size scale, Meyer's work on the world system has included studies of the position of women in various countries.

The faculty also include David Grusky, who studies changing patterns of occupational stratification; Michael Hannan, who studies the ecology of formal organizations, with a current focus on emerging entrepreneurial firms; and Susan Olzak, who studies social movements or collective action events, especially those involving racial or ethnic conflict in the United States and other countries.

"We currently have nobody on our faculty who studies criminology or family," Tuma said, areas of expertise that news reporters often seek out when they want analysts of breaking news events. "We tend to have a much longer term agenda than reporters," Tuma said, "and we tend not to be as interested in specifics as some other academic departments." In political sociology, for example, she said, "sociologists tend to ask why certain countries have certain kinds of political structures and institutions, or forms of protest or whatever, as compared to those who ask, why does Germany have this and Bosnia that?"

Teaching undergraduates is a challenge for sociologists, Tuma said, because "sociology is rarely taught in high schools, so undergraduates don't know what it's about." With that in mind, the department decided to offer two freshman seminars this year as part of the university's new introductory seminars program aimed at fostering working relationships between undergraduates and senior faculty.

"I taught a seminar this fall on transitions from socialism to 14 students and I had a great time," she said. "The freshmen didn't know much about sociology when they started, but they were very smart. Now I'm hoping that one, or perhaps two, will be hired to work on my research project this summer. "


By Kathleen O'Toole

© Stanford University. All Rights Reserved. Stanford, CA 94305. (650) 723-2300. Terms of Use  |  Copyright Complaints