The Department for the Study of Culture and Society is made up of courses and faculty committed to the critical and systematic study of cultural and social life in many of its seemingly endless and diverse forms. The late author David Foster Wallace once wrote that “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” Central to what our courses and majors aim to do is to understand why and how this is the case; to see how the “most obvious realities” are, so to speak, “hidden in plain sight.” All our majors and courses incorporate critical attention to cultural processes, power relationships, patterns of social interaction, historical factors, and social structures; and to the question of why, in many cases, seeing what is before us is so difficult, until of course it is not. The “obvious” usually becomes so only after it is seen as such. We are about the job of “seeing”; of proposing and developing a capacity to use the ideas, theories, criticism, and empirical research in our courses to see the familiar differently than it is often proposed by the dominant cultural processes and structures that shape our lives. And we are about the related job of imagining and becoming part of social change that aims to make things better for the lives of people “on the ground” that make sense of the above concepts. How, for example, does social inequality become reproduced in the practices of everyday life and what might be required to reduce its negative effects? How can we create a more just world for all the amazingly diverse range of people whom we are? Indeed, what does “justice” mean, here in the United States and around the world? Are we afraid of the wrong things? What in our lives do we “love,” and why? How can we open our thought to new ideas that challenge the “way we do things here”? How does language shape our experience and what would it mean to change that language? Such questions are among those that the courses and majors in our department foreground.
In our programs, you can work closely with professors on their research, in small reading groups and mentor other students. Internships take learning out of the classroom to quality placements throughout the Des Moines community. Our students present research at conferences and publish in journals. They receive one-on-one attention in their learning as critical and creative thinkers.
Our graduates want more than a paycheck. They seek a life and work that question the status quo, hold deeper meaning, and aim to make the world a better place. They graduate with the ability to work across different social groups, read, write and speak thoughtfully, advocate for social change, and build careers that matter. Our alumni work as professors, teachers, social workers, public relations executives, activists, attorneys, business people, and bankers.
We offer majors and minors in Sociology (SCSS/SOC), Anthropology/Sociology (SCSA/ANSO), Rhetoric, Media and Social Change (SCSR/RMSC). And there is a minor in Cultural Geography. Each program has a slightly different emphasis but offers theories, methods, and content to understand the social world through a critical lens. With these tools, you graduate prepared to make a living but also to pursue a meaningful life.
Interim Chair, 2017-2018
Department for the Study of Culture and Society
Ellis and Nelle Levitt Professor of Sociology