Brief History of the Department

[by H Krahn]

Unlike individuals, groups and organizations can sometimes choose their own birthday. There were Sociology courses being taught at the University of Alberta in the 1950s, including in the Department of Philosophy and Psychology between 1956 and 1959. In 1960, the Department of Philosophy and Sociology was formed but, like many relationships in the 1960s, this one was very short. Sociology became an independent teaching and research unit a year later.

1961. On campus, six sociologists and one anthropologist, the founding members of the Sociology Department, were teaching and conducting research about population, health, social inequality, race and ethnicity, family, crime, and urban society, among other topics. The Department awarded its first MA degree in 1961 (about fluoridation of city water), followed by its first PhD in 1968 (about social change in Hutterite colonies). We have chosen 1961 as our departmental birthday, despite the fact that Sociology and Anthropology experimented with co-habitation between 1963 and 1966. Over the past five decades, the Department grew to become one of the largest departments in the Faculty of Arts, with 39 faculty members and 9670 student registrations in 1989-90.

2011. Several rounds of budget cut-backs later, the Department today has 28 full-time equivalent faculty positions and registers about 7300 students annually. For the first several decades, Sociology had very few female faculty members; today almost half of the faculty members are women. Sociology is currently home to about 85 graduate students, including 60 PhD students. Along with the more traditional sociological topics being addressed 50 years ago, faculty and students specialize in, among other areas, gender, globalization, socio-legal studies, cultural studies, aging, immigration, and life course studies. In 2009, an external review team concluded that “in certain respects, [the University of Alberta Sociology department] now stands as the pre-eminent Sociology department in the country, and is certainly among the top two or three overall.”

In honour of the Department of Sociology’s 50th Anniversary we held a public lecture by Professor John Hagan entitled, “How we Remember to Forget: Canada and America’s Forever Wars” on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011.  Professor Hagan received his PhD from the Sociology Department in 1974 and is currently John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Law at Northwestern University, and Co-Director of the Center on Law & Globalization at the American Bar Foundation.

Are you an alumni of the department?  Do you know the whereabouts of other graduates from our programs?  If so, we would like to hear from you.  Please contact Cristeen Whalen at to be added to our circulation list and/or to provide us with an update on your career path and successes.