Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Sociology before Sociology at Otago University

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Sociology before Sociology at Otago University

Article excerpt


A sociology minor appeared at Otago University in 2003 and a major in 2005, but these relatively late developments were preceded by a rich history of sociology-like research and teaching at our institution. This article presents a sociological prehistory which winds its way through aspects of the teaching and research of home science, preventive medicine, education, physical education, anthropology and several other disciplines, uncovering sociology-like approaches adopted in the university from the 1920s on. It then briefly considers the reasons behind the late establishment of a stand-alone sociology programme at the university.

A department's development

The Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work came into being at the University of Otago in 2011. Nationally, this was the last-established unit with 'sociology' starring in a title role - ironically, at a time when many of New Zealand's existing sociology departments were being subsumed within larger schools.

Otago's Sociology Programme took its first steps in 2002 in the Department of Anthropology (later renamed Anthropology, Gender and Sociology). The first SOCI-coded courses were taught by Lesley Procter and Hugh Campbell, and a minor was offered in 2003. In 2005 Martin Tolich was appointed, and the fledgling programme had the capacity to offer a sociology major. This included two first year papers (an introduction to sociology and micro sociology), two second year papers (classical theory and research methods), and third year papers in advanced research methods and postmodernism. Brian Roper, a sociologically-trained staff member in the Department of Politics, taught the Marxist component of the second year theory paper.

Student numbers grew exponentially. Between 2005 and 2006, the combined student enrolment in the two first year sociology papers, Sociology of New Zealand Society (SOCI 101) and Cultural and Social Identities (SOCI 102), rose 77%, from 192 to 341 students. By 2010 the numbers reached 300 students in 101 and 200 students in 102. On the back of the students' interest in sociology, a number of staff appointments were made: Bryndl HohmannMarriott in 2007, Melanie Beres in 2010, Hugh Campbell (as Professor and Head of Department) in 2011, Katharine Legun in 2013 and Marcelle Dawson in 2014.. While Head of Programme between 2005 and 2011, Tolich was candid when interviewing new staff members: they were entering the sociology programme at the ground level, and they had the opportunity to create something original and innovative. The expansion of staff numbers has allowed the programme to offer a wide selection of classes.

As new as it was, the Sociology Programme sat in a complex institutional context, one with a long and intriguing history. New recruits were also told that there were more sociologists employed elsewhere in the university than in the sociology programme itself, the result of both the late development of the programme and a long history of social research at Otago. The focus of this historical review is less on the development of an academic programme of sociology, and more on the long history of the discipline of sociology: its precursors and the accompanying strands of teaching and research, the latter by both staff and students.

Of sociology's antecedents and fellow travellers there are many, each of which we consider in the discussion that follows: Home Science, University Extension, Anthropology, Preventive (later Preventive and Social) Medicine, Physical Education, Management, Education, History and Women's (later Gender) Studies. This was (and still is) a fluid field indeed, with movements across international and national borders and between disciplines and departments. Staff, ideas and influences flowed across all of these boundaries, from the early decades of the twentieth century to the current time. Although Otago did not have a formal Sociology Programme until recently, the university boasts an extraordinarily rich history of social analysis and teaching about society. …

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