Research Streams

UBC Sociology covers a diverse range of research areas that can be categorized by a set of seven core research streams.

Environment, Community & Social Movements

This area brings together three subfields of Sociology that may be examined separately, but can also overlap. We highlight both separate and overlapping research interests within this broad context.

Issues of resource management—forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, agriculture—have long been a focus for UBC sociologists.

Recently, this has broadened to include climate change, both from a ‘cultural model’ perspective and a ‘new’ institutional analysis perspective. The latter focuses on the adaptive capacity of communities to respond effectively to climate change.

Related foci include relations among eco-system planning, adaptive management and human well-being as these relate to resource extraction, human migration and the adaptive capacity of communities.

On-going work examines globalization and the public policy impacts on resource management, particularly around issues of land-use planning, aboriginal rights and tenures, the environmental impacts of urban residential sprawl and community development more generally.

Active research programs related to social capital and social networks examine these concepts both as individual social resources and as contributions to communal well-being.

This research particularly focuses on social capital and health, and on the relationship between social capital and economic outcomes. It also focuses on issues of measurement—involving community capacity, social networks, social capital analysis and various constructs of health and well-being.

Additional projects study urban and rural immigrant communities and urban labour organization and their impacts. Faculty members also work with aboriginal and urban communities around community social and economic development, education and health.

Active research programs in this area examine social movements and collective action to help in understanding the causes and consequences of protest, direct action, civil unrest and other forms of political action.

Areas of ongoing work include: studies of media coverage (both written and photographed) of direct actions by indigenous people in Canada; studies of the media portrayal and framing of aquaculture; an examination of social movement framing and media coverage of forestry and other environmental issues in British Columbia and elsewhere; and participation in collective action movements.

Family & Life Course

Family and life course sociology examines changes in the family unit, and the individuals within that unit, over time. Particular attention is paid to the changing composition and increasing diversity among families over the life course and to variations both cross-nationally and historically in public policy and professional practice related to families and their members.

The meaning of family and family forms continues to change, as reflected in declines in family size, same-sex marriages, family dissolution, cohabitation, lone parenting, mixed ethnicity marriages, postponed child bearing and lengthening periods in old age.

Several lines of research investigate a myriad of questions about the social processes underlying these changes, and their consequences. Researchers also consider the cultural differences informing family organization in Canada and around the world.

This area concerns age-related transitions that add up to and define individual and family progress along the life course. The life course is socially constructed, exerting a normative power on transitions, like finishing school, moving away from home, getting a job, marriage, childbearing and retirement.

Researchers explore the intersection between human development and the life course, examine the impacts of aging on identity, and consider the interrelated nature of social transitions in people’s lives such as adaptations to changes in health status or intergenerational caregiving.

In this area, the economic linkages among family members as producers, consumers and decision-makers are examined.

Particular research projects focus on within household decision-making regarding allocation of resources, on the resource exchanges of transnational families, and on decisions regarding housing consumption.

Not only are family forms changing but so too are the linkages between the family and other institutions, be these schooling (education), the labour market (work) or the church (religion). We especially examine cross-institutional timing and sequencing between family and jobs, educational events and family events and family and religious events.

Close relationships are fraught with emotional significance and meaning. Power often shapes interactions, whether in sexual relationships, close friendships or relationships between parents and children. Research in this area examines sexual history, adolescent relationships, romantic coupling and parent-child relationships.

Gender & Sexuality

Sociologists of gender and sexuality explore changing gender relations and sexual identities within historical and contemporary contexts across national boundaries.

A central theme within feminist sociology, the exploration of intersectionality, recognizes the mutually constitutive character of social processes, structures and identities (e.g., through race, class and gender).

An example of research by faculty in this field is the examination of gender differences in settlement experiences among immigrants and refugees.

Pivotal to this field of inquiry is the examination of queerness—lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersexed, pansexual—past and present, in addition to the social construction of heteronormativity and heterosexual non-conformity.

Examples of research by faculty in this area include burlesque, striptease, neo-burlesque, industries of sex workers and sex-related social movements.

This area of expertise excavates the transformation of gender over time, space and the life course.

Examples of research by faculty include the complexities of ‘girl cultures’, school-based youth cultures and care-giving for the elderly.

Some sociologists of gender analyze processes of globalization, the segregation of the labour force, unionization and social policy.

Examples of such research include struggles for pay equity, service work and consumer culture, and single parenting in neo-liberal contexts.

Health & Healthcare

Health sociology in the department involves the examination of health and illness at the intersections of social structures and institutions, governments and policies, healthcare systems and personal experiences.

This area involves investigation of the influence of social, political and economic inequalities on the differential distribution of health and illness within populations and among groups of individuals.

In particular, scholars in the department conduct research on the health effects of socioeconomic status and social class, race and ethnicity, housing, social capital, income generation practices, and neighbourhood of residence.

This prominent area of health sociology, with roots in phenomenology and symbolic interactionism, focuses on exploring meanings associated with experiences of health, illness, illness-related stigma, and care-seeking for individuals and their families and on patterns of communication between clients of health services and service providers.

The field of health sociology also includes examination of the organization of healthcare institutions and their role in shaping the delivery of health services.

This area includes a long tradition of research focused on how medical students are socialized into the medical profession well as examinations of the culture of hospitals and nursing homes and implications for the quality of care provided.

Current research involves investigation of the effects of privatization and outsourcing of hospital support services and issues pertaining to the recruitment, retention, training and work dynamics of home support workers.

Work in this area seeks to identify the implications of health and social policies for the nature of healthcare systems and the health and well-being of populations.

Current research investigates how the construction and use of measurement instruments influences policy decisions and understandings about health, and the secondary health impacts of different social policies.

Knowledge, Culture & Power

The relationships between knowledge, culture and power are a focus for many of our faculty members and scholars.

One line of inquiry examines the social processes by which knowledge—especially the knowledge generated by scientists and intellectuals—is produced, transmitted, interpreted and used in various sectors of society.

Knowledge and innovation drive economies forward, structure government policy, shape our everyday lives—and create new social divisions and inequalities. Related work examines how knowledge is translated and used in practical applications, from aquaculture to climate change, employment to school policy.

An alternative focus examines the production of knowledge as both embedded and produced within specific relations of power, influence and authority. Scientific, expert and everyday knowledges structure, and are structured by, class, gender, race, age and culture, and by geopolitical divides and urban/rural networks.

Drawing from a variety of conceptual perspectives, including feminist, postcolonial and neo-marxian theories, scholars in this area pose questions about the applicability, relevance and presumed universality of social science categories, scientific canons and founding texts in the discipline.

Educational institutions—especially post-secondary ones—are a focus of central importance, with research examining the changing academic profession, the growth of new scientific and intellectual movements within the university, struggles over what counts as authoritative knowledge, the links between higher education and political values, access to education, First Nations and schooling, and the representation of knowledge in school curricula.

Daily life is a cultural process that constitutes social relations organized through spatial formations, economies and markets, work and labour, and the dynamics of law and legality.

Scholars in the Department examine how culture is contested in everyday practices, including state classifications of aboriginal peoples and migrant workers and the struggles these produce.

A related line of research examines the multiple bases of cultural tastes, the generation and interpretation of elite/high cultures, and the role of popular culture and mass media in shaping social relations.

Race, Ethnicity & Immigration

Scholars in this area study how racial, ethnic and national identities are salient or stratifying forces in people’s lives. Immigration is one primary force shaping racial and ethnic diversity in Canada and other receiving nations. As a city with tremendous ethnic and racial diversity, as well as one of the world’s largest concentrations of immigrants, Vancouver is an ideal location to study these issues.

A prominent area within the study of race and ethnicity is how and why social inequalities are structured and sustained between different groups. Researchers seek to explain disparities in health, education, work and resource distribution, among other realms of life.

Studies by UBC faculty focus on experiences of discrimination as well as the way that notions of difference and hierarchy are politically constructed. We also study how race and ethnicity intersect with other relations of inequality such as gender, sexuality, class, age and disability, as well as the changing histories and articulations of racisms across time and space.

Racial and ethnic categories change over time and across societies. Researchers in this area study how they are constructed and transformed by social processes such as immigration, colonialism, intermarriage, state formation, political events and even genetic technology. This includes the construction of new identities (e.g. multiracial, “Canadian”), and the implications of classification for social relations and for research.

This area considers how immigrants are faring in their new societies. It includes their socioeconomic integration (educational attainment, labour market outcomes, neighbourhood integration) as well as their cultural integration (linguistic abilities, family patterns, identity, social networks). Scholars in this area also examine patterns of maintaining transnational ties and sending remittances to the home countries.

Faculty in our department study the social psychology of race prejudice and discrimination, public attitudes toward immigration and foreigners, and the social factors that can transform attitudes toward racial, ethnic and foreign-born groups. This area includes social mobilization of ethnic and racial groups as they seek to change the dynamics of social relations.

Work, Economy & Globalization

Faculty in this area study the historical and contemporary dynamics of change related to capitalist work arrangements, labour, capital and migration flows, the institutional and political regulation of labour, economic behaviour and organizations, consumption and consumer practices, culture and political economy, and labour movements.

Given the profound local and global transformations taking place in the nature of work and the economy, our faculty members conduct comparative and transnational research in many parts of the world, including Canada, China, India, Korea and the United States.

Research in this area explores workplace power relations and labour processes, the casualization and informalization of work, and the impact of employment insecurity on individuals, families and communities.

The global transformation of workplace and employment relations in the context of capital mobility, economic restructuring and transnational corporate practices make this area a dynamic field of inquiry.

Faculty investigate employment patterns and labour market trends, including unemployment, the growth of precarious and non-standard employment, the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, age and family participation on the rate and quality of employment, and the consequences of job changes and career trajectories on individual and group economic outcomes and general wellbeing.

Research in this area recognizes that markets, economic behaviour and economic organizations are fundamentally social, shape social interactions and are shaped by overlapping arenas of social life. In particular, faculty investigate the importance of cultural meanings and symbolic values attached to work, employment, consumer practices and social reproduction.

Faculty research explores the gendered nature of work, ranging from gendered labour markets to gendered constructions of jobs to sex work. Feminist approaches foreground the importance of intersectionality (race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, etc.) and participatory action research.

The circulation and regulation of capital, labour and migration are central to the dynamics of global capitalist expansion. Faculty research examines labour migration flows and regulatory regimes from the age of colonialism and empire in the nineteenth century to the contemporary age of globalization and neoliberalism.

Research in this area intersects with labour studies, and several scholars focus on labour politics and trade unions, both historically and in a contemporary, transnational context.

Our work explores the importance of collective organizing, community politics and social justice movements for securing labour rights and protections as well as transforming the dynamics of power and inequality inherent in capitalist work arrangements.

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