Introducing UBC Sociology’s incoming Department Head Catherine Corrigall-Brown

Department Head Catherine Corrigall-Brown

UBC Sociology is thrilled to welcome Dr. Catherine Corrigall-Brown as our new Department Head.

Dr. Corrigall-Brown will begin her three-year term on July 1 succeeding Dr. Guy Stecklov and becoming the first female head of the department. She joined UBC Sociology in 2015. Her research focuses on social movements, political sociology, and social psychology (particularly the study of identity).

Dr. Corrigall-Brown’s forthcoming book, Keeping the March Alive, explores how activist groups mobilize and survive over time by following groups that were founded right after the first Women’s March in 2017. Her first book, Patterns of Protest (2012), focuses on examining the varying ways individuals participate in contentious politics over their lifetimes. In 2013, she was awarded the inaugural Early Investigator Award from the Canadian Sociological Association. She is the incoming Chair of the Social Movement and Collective Action Section of the American Sociological Association.

An award-winning teacher, Dr. Corrigall-Brown enjoys teaching our first-year Introduction to Sociology course as well as a fourth-year Social Movements class. She was recognized for her outstanding teaching with a Killam Faculty Teaching Prize in 2017 and the Lorne Tepperman Award for Outstanding Teaching from the Canadian Sociological Association in 2022.

We spoke to Dr. Corrigall-Brown about her priorities as Head of the Sociology department.

Dr. Catherine Corrigall-Brown

Thanks for sitting down with us to do this interview, so I guess we could start by what inspired you to apply to be Department Head?

I’ve worked at UBC for seven years. I do research on social movements, which I really love, and I love teaching, particularly Intro to Sociology. I also really enjoy being part of the team of UBC Sociology. I think that our department does amazing teaching, amazing research, and I like to be on the team that champions that amazing work to our colleagues in the department but also to the university as a whole. I am excited about the opportunity to get to do that.

You mentioned you taught Intro to Sociology, recently we spoke to Professor Neil Guppy who recently retired and was also big on teaching that first-year Intro to Sociology class. What’s exciting for you about teaching students who are coming into their undergraduate degrees and are engaging with Sociology for the first time? 

Intro to Sociology is my favorite class to teach because I think of it as sort of the Greatest Hits of Sociology. You get to introduce students to Sociology. If they’re anything like I was, they had never even heard of Sociology when they came to first-year university. So you get to be the first one to explain what Sociology is. To get to tell them how sex and gender are not the same things, to look at all of the inequality that exists in society, but then think of all the things we can do to ameliorate that inequality and reduce it over time. So it’s a really fun class because you get to be the first ones to expose people and tell people about Sociology and get them excited about it. And then whatever it is that they liked in that class — did they like gender? Well, there are more gender classes. Did they like race and ethnicity? There’s more of that. Studying occupations, or the healthcare system, or social movements like I do — there’s more of all of those things. So you get to be the first one that welcomes them into the tent and sets them on their sociological journey.

I feel like you might have touched on some of this but is there anything that really sticks out to you as being your favorite part of being at UBC Sociology?

I think that there are lots of wonderful things about UBC Sociology. In terms of teaching, we have outstanding students. I meet them for the first time in Intro to Sociology and then the other class that I teach is a fourth-year class, Social Movements. I’m always amazed by how much our students develop since their first year, by how incredibly thoughtful and smart they are, and how interested they are in the social world, understanding that world, and making that world a better place.

Another thing I love about UBC is my colleagues in the department. People at UBC sociology do incredible research and research that really helps us understand the world but also helps to make the world better. We have colleagues who are studying the impact of COVID and how we can deal with these pandemics that happen. We have colleagues that study the opioid crisis and how we can help people who are experiencing these problems. We have colleagues who are engaged with women who work in the Downtown Eastside. We have colleagues who study climate change. Everyone in the department is doing research that is so impactful and helps us make sense of the world, and hopefully make the world a better place.

“I'm always amazed by how much our students develop since their first year, by how incredibly thoughtful and smart they are, and how interested they are in the social world, understanding that world, and making that world a better place.”
Department Head

Can you tell us more about your research and the fourth-year class Social Movements?

I study social movements. I talk in my intro class about how one of the core things we study is social inequality. There’s a lot of it, and it can be depressing. There’s all this inequality out there and these institutions that keep society the way it is. But then I study social change. How do we create social change by getting together, creating social movements, protesting and other things? There’s been so much social change that’s happened in society. We know that our society is not perfect but if you look around at who’s on UBC campus, we have people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, women and men, and people from around the world. And that’s because of people pushing for social change. So, that’s what I study and so I often see students at the beginning of their courses, and at the very end in social movements before they graduate.

Now coming into the role of Department Head with your understanding of social change and making society better for everyone, what would you like to accomplish this head to make UBC sociology better?

I think that the first thing I want to do is just facilitate the amazing work of our faculty and our staff and our students. People are already doing incredible work in teaching and in their research and engaging with the community. I want to champion that work. I want everyone to know about that work. I want people to engage in that work. I want that work to get out there to the world.

I’m also very interested in moving us forward on our larger issues of equity and diversity. Sociologist and the university care a lot about equity, diversity, and inclusion. I’d like to work within our department to make it as equitable as it can be, to make sure everyone is being recognized for their amazing work, recognizing the wonderful work of our students, our faculty, and our staff so that we have the most diverse and inclusive context that we can.

“Sociology is all about traveling at home and seeing the unusual and remarkable elements of your own society that you're so used to it that you don't recognize.”
Department Head

What do you think the biggest challenges you’re going to face as Department Head will be?

I think that there is a lot of vibrancy in our department that comes from diversity of opinion. I think that we all in many ways want the same thing: we want a place where we can really engage in teaching students and want a great place to learn. I think that we all care a lot about things like equity and diversity. But how do we bring together people with different ideas of how we might do this and refocus on how we’re all working as a team to make this the best place to work and to learn. I think that that can sometimes be a challenge but it also is a chance for us to recognize our joint purpose and come together.

What are you currently reading or working on?

I just finished writing a book where I’m looking at how social movements stay alive over time. One of the big things that we’re always interested in with social movements is when you have a big impactful protest event, you also want to keep the protest movement going. There were a big series of women’s marches that happened after Donald Trump was inaugurated in the United States. Those were exciting because they were huge. They happen all across the country, and they had millions of people that came. But how do you keep that movement alive over time? I found 35 groups that were founded right after those marches in 10 American cities. I followed them over two years, doing interviews with the people in the groups and following their Facebook pages to predict which groups would survive over time and still mobilize and which groups died out. That’s what I’m really interested in. I love a big giant protest event, but the only way that social change ever happens is if we persevere and we have groups and people that are committed to activism and change over time.

What do you do for fun when you’re not studying social movements?

My favorite thing to do is travel. Obviously, there hasn’t been as much travel with the current situation. But my favorite thing to do is travel. We were just recently in Paris. One of the famous sayings in Sociology is that Sociology is like traveling but at home. When you travel you notice the unusual things: how they eat dinner differently and how they organize their lives differently. Sociology is all about traveling but at home and seeing the unusual and remarkable elements of your own society that you’re so used to it that you don’t recognize.