do student interests reveal the future of sociology?

Below the jump are the ASA sections ranked by the proportion of their members that are student members. I would have made it into a graph if I had sophomore-level Excel skills; as it is, you are lucky I managed to sort and round the numbers.

Is this a good measure of the areas of sociology we’d expect to get bigger or smaller in the years ahead? Main limitations I see to considering the numbers as a predictor of growth would be whatever extent the different areas have different probabilities of students transitioning to the professoriate and/or different probabilities of switching interest areas along the way. Plus areas may differ in the extent to which they recruit student members, especially those sections that tend to hover around the lines that determine how many sessions each section gets at the meetings.

Probably the biggest surprise for me on the high side is how student-dominated Race/Gender/Class still is (what happened to all the folks interested in this when I was a student?) and probably the biggest surprise on the low side is only 20% of Sociology of Population (do demography students mostly ignore ASA in favor of PAA?).


Race, Gender, and Class 0.43
Sociology of Sexualities 0.43
Body and Embodiment 0.41
Sociology of Mental Health 0.39
Communication and Information 0.38
Social Psychology 0.37
Sociology of Law 0.37
Political Sociology 0.36
Sociology of Culture 0.36
Crime, Law, & Deviance" 0.36
Human Rights 0.35
Sex and Gender 0.35
Asia/Asian America 0.35
Development, Sociology of 0.35
Coll Behavior/Soc Movements 0.35
Environment & Technology 0.35
Pol Econ of World-System 0.34
Sociology of Education 0.34
Latino/a Sociology 0.34
Global/Transnational Sociology 0.34
Science, Knowledge & Tech" 0.34
Racial & Ethnic Minorities 0.33
Economic Sociology 0.33
Sociology of Religion 0.33
International Migration 0.32
Sociology of Emotions 0.32
Theory 0.32
Family 0.31
Peace, War, & Social Conflict 0.30
Marxist Sociology 0.30
Inequality, Poverty & Mobility 0.30
Disability and Society 0.30
Orgs, Occupation and Work 0.29
Comparative/Historical Soc 0.29
Altruism, Morality &Social Solidarity 0.29
Community & Urban Sociology 0.29
Medical Sociology 0.29
Children & Youth 0.29
Methodology 0.27
Labor and Labor Movements 0.26
Aging and the Life Course 0.25
Animals and Society 0.25
Mathematical Sociology 0.25
Teaching and Learning 0.24
Ethnomethodology/Conv Analysis 0.24
Soc Practice & Public Soc 0.23
Sociology of Population 0.20
Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco 0.19
Evolution, Biology & Sociology 0.18
History of Sociology 0.17
Rationality and Society 0.16

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

11 thoughts on “do student interests reveal the future of sociology?”

  1. I’d think the other big variable would be what the total N is for each sub-area; if race/class/gender is 43% students but has a third as many total members as Rationality & Society, you could actually argue that Rationality & Society is the section truly on the upswing. And really, I’d think (grad students in a section)/(total grad students in ASA) would get you even further. Those three stats together…. now I’m curious – where did these numbers come from?

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  2. There’s a number of areas that are related to or overlap with race/class/gender (sex and gender; racial and ethnic minorities; Latino/a sociology; inequality, poverty & mobility). Maybe students start out in race/class/gender and then move to more specific areas later.

    When I was a demography student I definitely focused more on PAA than ASA. I don’t remember, though, what sections I was a member of when I was an ASA member.

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  3. One empirical approach would be to ask students why they join a section (or not). My guess is that recruitment efforts and hospitality have a lot to do with it, while intellectual interests and expertise are now possible to “locate” in any one of several sections.

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  4. I like Sarahliz’s guess. I started in race/class/gender and moved into pop, family and orgs/occs/work, in keeping with the pattern. The other way to describe that is that it might be crass professionalism — I found those areas to be easier to operationalize in a career. Or maybe that’s just me.

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  5. The irony, I suppose, is that the racegenderclass section is not a big-tent inequality section, although the name could fool students into thinking it is. (For the non ASA-types, it’s the institutional home for “intersectionality” approaches, it is strongly influenced by black feminism, and it has an overtly activist orientation.) I suspect the non-student membership overlap between RGC and the new inequality, poverty, and mobility section is not much greater than the overlap of any two randomly chosen sections. (The overlap in membership of RCG and math soc, or of RCG and rationality & society, likely rounds to zero.)

    My explanation for the relatively high proportion of students in RCG are that it’s a natural and hospitable home for young sociologists who enter grad school with the primary goal of eradicating the “isms.” These students are especially likely to (a) become disillusioned and self-select out of the discipline, or (b) shift to areas that are, as Phil puts it, easier to operationalize into a career. No necessary period effect, though.

    Some of the other sections at the top of Jeremy’s list fit this general story, too.

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  6. If you’re predicting changes in the profession, there are the individual career factors that Philip and Sarahilz mention(when I became a man, I put away childish things). But there’s also the career of the discipline, especially gender composition. Maybe we should put Jeremy’s data together with Philip’s gender segregation blog post that Shakha cited here a few weeks ago.

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  7. One thing to keep in mind about ASA sections is that if their membership falls below 300 they become is danger of losing their section status. In these cases it is not uncommon for sections to do “members recruit a member” drives and offer free membership to students. That being said we have a good proportion of our grad students here who are interesting in intersectionality and issues of sexuality so those sections would be the most likely for them to join. For students interested in criminal justice, urban, and more public policy oriented issues, there are other associations such as the crim one, UAA for urban etc. As an urban policy person I was as a grad student (and remain as a faculty member) just as active in UAA as in ASA.

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  8. I’d like to characterize universities sociology departments by their faculties’ memberships. Also, how do citation counts compare to section memberships?

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