Departmental History of Sociology at UBC

This short history documents some of the major milestones of Sociology at UBC-Vancouver from the perspective of the Department of Sociology. It does not do justice to the contributions of sociologists located elsewhere on the Vancouver campus or at UBC-Okanagan. Comments on this document would be welcome.


In the fall of 1915, when UBC first offered degree courses, Sociology was combined with Economics and Political Science in a single Department. Most of the Department’s courses were in economics, although one economist, Theodore Boggs, taught a hybrid economics/sociology course entitled “Labour Problems and Social Reform.” The first sociology course, “Principles of Sociology,” appeared in the UBC calendar in 1918 but was not actually taught until 1921 when a theologian, Samuel E. Beckett (MA Queen’s), joined the Department. The first Masters degree in Sociology was completed by Bruce Howie Wallace in 1928, “Religion as a Factor in Social Life.” UBC’s archival records indicate that in 1937 Katherine Ethel Chapman obtained the first BA granted in sociology.(The Chapman Learning Commons in the Ike Barber Learning Centre is named after Mrs. Chapman and her husband, Lloyd Chapman.)

Coral Wesley Topping (AB Queen’s, PhD Columbia), appointed in 1929, was the first sociologist to hold a full-time position at UBC. Topping was responsible for establishing a series of courses in sociology, including “Social Origins and Development” in 1928, “The Urban Community” in 1930, “Social Problems and Social Policy” in 1937 and “Social Statistics” in 1941. On January 22nd, 1944 Topping was the first sociologist to give a Vancouver Institute lecture (on Juvenile Delinquency; the Institute has, since 1916, sponsored free Saturday night lectures that attract audiences of hundreds, and sometimes thousands).

In the 1940s UBC expanded its course offerings in sociology and in the related fields of social work, anthropology, and criminology. Both sociology honours seminars and graduate instruction began in the later half of the 1940s. Topping retired in the spring of 1955, the same year that Harry Hawthorn, an anthropologist, became the head of the new Department of Anthropology, Criminology and Sociology. Included in the Department were three anthropologists, a part-time archaeologist, one sociologist, an economist-sociologist, five honorary lecturers in criminology, and one full-time criminologist. It was renamed the Department of Anthropology and Sociology in 1959 when Criminology was aligned with the School of Social Work.

The first full-time sociologist hired after Topping was Kaspar Naegele, appointed in 1954. Naegele came to Canada in his teens as a refugee from Nazi Germany. After attaining his PhD at Harvard under Talcott Parsons, he taught at the University of New Brunswick and the University of Oslo. Naegele was a co-editor, with Parsons and others, of Theories of Society, a collection of classical readings in sociological theory. In 1961 he also co-edited, with Bernard Blishen, Frank Jones and John Porter, the first Canadian collection of sociological articles, Canadian Society. The accumulated royalties from that book were endowed and the earnings continue to fund the Kaspar Naegele Lecture given every few years by a distinguished visitor to the Department (one of whom was Dorothy Smith, a former Departmental colleague). In 1964, a year before his untimely death, Naegele became Dean of Arts at UBC. There is also a student prize, the Kaspar Naegele Memorial Prize in Sociology, that goes to a top undergraduate every year (this award has been generously supported by Robert and Judith Doll and other former students of Naegele’s). A short note about Naegele’s life at UBC was provided by Martin Meissner, who as an undergraduate met Naegele and his wife in Acadia Park, a former faculty housing site (see Department newsletter Volume 2, #2, 2014).

Naegele and Hawthorn were instrumental in the hiring of additional sociologists, setting the stage for the rapid expansion of the field at UBC. Bernard Blishen joined the Department in 1958, followed by Reginald Robson in 1959, Werner Cohn and Stanford Lyman in 1960, and Martin Meissner (PhD Oregon) in 1961. As well, the old connection with Economics persisted, as Stuart Jamieson, a labour economist with an MA thesis in sociology from McGill University (part of Everett Hughes’ study of Quebec society), also taught in the Department.

Undergraduate enrolments increased through the 1960s and 1970s, and faculty members were hired to meet the demand, including at various stages Yunshik Chang (PhD Princeton), Tissa Fernando (DPhil Oxford), Martha Foschi (PhD Stanford), George Gray (PhD Oregon), Graham Johnson (PhD Cornell), Adrian Marriage (MA London), Ricardo Muratorio (MA Berkeley), John O’Connor (PhD Michigan), Robert Ratner (PhD Yale), David Schweitzer (PhD UCLA), Ken Stoddart (PhD Santa Barbara), Roy Turner (PhD Berkeley) and Nancy Waxler-Morrison (PhD Harvard), all of whom retired from UBC. Some of the sociologists who were in the Department during the expansion period became even more prominent after leaving UBC, including Lyman who joined the New School of Social Research, Lionel Tiger who went to Rutger’s University, and Dorothy Smith who joined the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

At the same time, sociologists were also being hired outside the formal Department, principally in the Faculty of Education (e.g., Charles Ungerleider), but also in Medicine (e.g., Nancy Waxler-Morrison in Health Care and Epidemiology), and Applied Science (e.g., Joan Anderson in Nursing). The number of sociology scholars outside the formal Department in which Sociology has been housed has continued to grow and, as the partial list below shows, the reach of sociology within UBC is impressive in both size and diversity.

The first PhD programmes in the Department were also established in the late 1960s. In 1970, Patricia Marchak received the first PhD degree in Sociology from UBC. Marchak, who had studied with Naegele in her undergraduate years, joined the Department as a full-time faculty member in 1973. Her research on the sociology and political economy of the forest industries in British Columbia, Asia, and Latin America did much to open up the field of resource sociology, and to establish a strong political economy tradition in Canadian sociology. She is one of only two other UBC sociologists, besides Topping, to have given a Vancouver Institute lecture (1996; Richard Ericson was the other, on March 5, 1994).

After a time in the Buchanan Building, the Angus Building, and then in several temporary buildings, the Department moved to its present location (6303 NW Marine Drive) in 1976. The new building combined three former women’s dormitories (Anne Westbrook Hall and Isabel MacInnes Hall built in 1951, and Mary Murrin Hall built in 1956) which were previously part of Fort Camp. The renovation was planned by the architectural firm of Arthur Erickson that was also responsible for the design of the nearby Museum of Anthropology.

Sociological research in the new building was organized into laboratories for small-group experimentation, survey research, and ethnomethodology. (Current signage within the building still reflect these specializations.) Shortly after the move, the sociology undergraduate curriculum was restructured to stream students into one of the three dominant methodological approaches that reflected faculty teaching and research interests at the time – quantitative, qualitative, and comparative. After a few trial years, Sociology returned to a more eclectic teaching programme comprised of diverse requirements, encouraging students to sample courses from a variety of different sociological traditions. This philosophy continues to structure the curriculum.

Through the 1970s and on, sociologists in the Department established expertise in the social psychology of small groups (three successive small-group laboratories were developed by Robson), the sociology of work and industry – where Meissner’s “The Long Arm of the Job” was one of the most cited papers internationally), and the sociology of social change and development. Cohn did the difficult field work on the Roma in Canada, the USA and Europe, including learning the language, which led to publication of The Gypsies in 1973. Turner introduced ethnomethodology and its associated debates to the Department and edited the leading international collection in the sub-field, Ethnomethodology: Selected Readings (1974).

Interest in questions concerning women and gender differences also grew in the Department during this time, and courses specially focused on gender were developed by Smith and others. (A Centre for Research in Women’s Studies and Gender Relations was formally established at UBC in 1991 with the assistance of various Department members.) Also during the 1970s, the Department expanded its strengths in the sociology of Canadian society, an ongoing focus of specialization in teaching and research. As well, faculty and graduate students shared expertise in Area Studies (with special focus on China (Johnson), Korea (Chang), Latin America, and Sri Lanka in particular), experimental research in group processes (especially Foschi’s work in expectation states theory), and the sociology of law and criminology (where Ratner’s critical criminology was the best known).

Starting in the 1980s, the Department began hosting extended visits by a number of internationally renowned sociologists, among them Jeffrey Alexander, Ralf Dahrendorf, Margrit Eichler, Georges Friedmann, Anthony Giddens, Jurgen Habermas, Nathan Keyfitz, Seymour Martin Lipset, Gianfranco Poggi, Dorothy Smith (while at OISE), and Charles Tilly. In 1986, Marchak became the first woman, and the first sociologist, to head the Department, and in 1991 she was the first woman to become Dean of Arts at UBC. (The Department has now established a scholarship in her honour, the Pat Marchak Excellence in International Research Award.) The 1990s also saw the addition of Brian Elliott to the Department, a well-known scholar from the University of Edinburgh with ties to the Department that stretched back to the early 1970s. Richard Ericson also joined the Department at that time, as part of his appointment as the principal of Green College, a graduate residential college.

Sociologists at UBC have long played an active role in the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association. For instance, Robson was active in the establishment of the association, Meissner was the program organizer of the inaugural annual meeting, and Marchak, Ralph Matthews, and William Reimer (the latter a PhD graduate of the Department) have all served as President of the CSAA (now the Canadian Sociology Association or CSA).

In 2006, two important events signalled new directions for sociology as an institutional unit at UBC. First, the national journal of the discipline The Canadian Review of Sociology was housed in the Department under the editorship of Ralph Matthews. Rima Wilkes later became another editor of the journal for the period 2013-2016. Second, distinct Departments of Sociology and Anthropology were created. The new Department of Sociology at UBC Vancouver was comprised of 16 full-time faculty members (with Guppy as its Head until 2013, with Francesco Duina, PhD Harvard, leading after that), with established connections to other sociologists in the Faculties of Applied Science, Commerce and Business Administration, Education, and Medicine and in the School of Social Work and Family Studies in the Faculty of Arts. With the creation of the UBC Okanagan campus, this too has added to the complement of sociologists at The University of British Columbia.

During the 2007-08 academic year the School of Social Work and Family Studies was reorganized. Six members of faculty who had previously been in the school moved to the Department of Sociology (Phyllis Johnson, Nathan Lauster, Anne Martin-Matthews, Jim Ponzetti, Jim White, and Carrie Yodanis). A number of additional appointments followed, expanding our ranks to 33 full-time faculty as of 2017. In the process, we extended our contributions to UBC units, such as Arts One (arguably the premier undergraduate first year cohort program in the country) and the Faculty of Arts Co-ordinated Arts Program.

The recent years have been marked by considerable achievements. Since 2008, the Department has hosted Sociological Theory, under the editorial leadership of Neil Gross (PhD Wisconsin). The appointment of two Canada Research Chairs (Elizabeth Hirsh and Amin Ghaziani), the securing of three Michael Smith Health Research Fellowships and of numerous Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grants, the winning of numerous Killam Research Awards and Killam Teaching Awards, the launch of a new undergraduate joint-degree program with Sciences Po in Paris, and extensive connections within the local community in the Vancouver area and British Columbia have all helped make the department a dynamic and exciting centre of teaching and research.


Initial document by Martin Meissner, Neil Guppy, and Gerry Veenstra, with further contributions from Francesco Duina, Brian Elliott, Martha Foschi, Patricia Marchak and Robert Ratner [further contributions would be most welcome].


Current Core Faculty Members (2019/20)

Seth Abrutyn (PhD California-Riverside)

Neil Armitage (PhD Manchester)

Silvia Bartolic (PhD Texas)

Jennifer Berdahl (PhD Illinois)

Elic Chan (PhD Toronto)

Amanda Cheong, (PhD Princeton)

Catherine Corrigall-Brown (PhD California)

Gillian Creese (PhD Carleton)

Sinikka Elliott (PhD Texas at Austin)

Qiang Fu (PhD Duke)

Sylvia Fuller (PhD Rutgers)

Amin Ghaziani (PhD Northwestern)

Kathy Greaves

Kerry Greer (PhD Indiana)

Neil Guppy (PhD Waterloo)

Amy Hanser (PhD Berkeley)

Elizabeth Hirsh (PhD Washington)

Emily Huddart Kennedy (PhD Alberta)

Phyllis Johnson (PhD Ohio)

Thomas Kemple (PhD York)

Sean Lauer (PhD New Hampshire)

Nathan Lauster (PhD Brown)

Katherine Lyon (PhD British Columbia)

Anne Martin-Matthews (PhD McMaster)

Ralph Matthews (PhD Minnesota)

Renisa Mawani (PhD Toronto)

Robyn Pitman (PhD Guelph)

Yue Qian (PhD Ohio)

Lindsey Richardson (PhD Oxford)

Oral Robinson (PhD Saskatchewan), Lecturer

Becki Ross (PhD Toronto)

Wendy Roth (PhD Harvard)

Caroline Sanner

Guy Stecklov (PhD Berkeley), Department Head

David Tindall (PhD Toronto)

Gerry Veenstra (PhD McMaster)

Rima Wilkes (PhD Toronto)

Carrie Yodanis (PhD New Hampshire)