Sociology is the scientific study of society. Sociologists study the social lives of people and groups to understand how social factors shape one’s minds and behavior. The Sociological Imagination helps you understand social phenomena from diverse perspectives.
The Department of Sociology at CUHK has the longest history and the most comprehensive curriculum of its kind in Hong Kong. We currently focus on six research clusters: Crime and Deviance; Economic, Politics & Society; Family, Gender and Sexuality; Population, Health and Migration; Stratification and Education; and Computational Social Science. All of our teaching staff excel in their fields of specialization.
Students are required to complete a capstone thesis project before graduation. In addition, students can choose to concentrate in one or two of the three areas of concentration: 1) Research Methods and Data Analytics, 2) Sociology and Social Policy, and 3) Society, Sustainability and Technology
We encourage and facilitate our students to explore the world. On average, 20+ students participated in overseas exchange annually. To prepare students for their future career, the Department offered 30+ internship opportunities in the summer of 2022.
The Department now offers a new Four-Year SOC-JLM double-major option in collaboration with the School of Journalism and Communication and a SOC-JD double-degree option in collaboration with the Faculty of Law.
The Sociological Imagination
‘The first fruit of this imagination―and the first lesson of the social science that embodies it is the idea that the individual can understand his own experience and gauge his own fate only by locating himself within his period, that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all individuals in his circumstances.’
C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (1959)
This is precisely why Prof. Tony Tam came to see, in the style of Max Weber, sociology as a vocation. Originally planning to be a physicist, he was increasingly fascinated by the study of society after exposure to the history of civilization, philosophy and social science in his matriculation years. Despite getting a distinction in physics and mathematics in the CUHK entrance examination, he followed his new-found passion and majored in sociology.
‘I was admitted to the university in 1978, when the chaos brought about by the Cultural Revolution was finally coming to an end and social stability was gradually restored. As China began its 40-year economic reform, there was a quietude all of a sudden and society as a whole lost its sense of direction,’ said Professor Tam in an interview with the Chung Chi Campus Newsletter.
It was against this background that Professor Tam became interested in the study of people and society as he recalled in the interview. When choosing his major subject in university, he began to wonder, ‘Which subjects would allow me to understand society?’ After some research, he was certain that sociology is, in his own words, ‘the most extensive and unrestricted subject in social science’.
As someone having years of research and teaching experience at some of the world’s most prestigious universities, Professor Tam highlighted three aspects of sociology that prospective students should know, the first of which is how it has evolved over the years.
Sociology emerged a century ago as an academic discipline addressing the major transformations in European societies. It was a product of its time and its exceptional circumstances. Nowadays, though, sociology has extended to encompass all social changes, all social processes, all social groups and all societies. Prof. Tong Yuying’s research of internal migration in China is a good case in point.
‘I often wonder what would’ve happened to myself if I hadn’t gone to college,’ said Professor Tong in an interview with the CUHK Newsletter, reflecting on her own experience growing up in a village in rural China. ‘I am interested in migrants’ life opportunities and their well-being.’
Many of her schoolmates became rural-to-urban migrants. This experience inspired Professor Tong to turn her attention to the study of internal migration in China, focusing recently on how it affects the psychological well-being of the migrants’ spouses and on the livelihood strategies of these spouses left behind in rural areas.
‘To the wife left behind, being the master of the household in the absence of her husband may be more a burden than a blessing since she has to bear greater responsibilities. She may have more autonomy, but that autonomy is often a source of distress in a cash-strapped family,’ said Professor Tong in the interview. ‘Without true gender equality, it is difficult for women to reap the benefits of having more power.’ She hopes that her research will contribute to better policies in the future.
The second aspect of sociology Professor Tam highlighted is that it is an excellent way of preparing for interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary graduate study as well as advanced research in social science. Ranked 37th in the 2021 QS World University Rankings by Subject (Sociology), the Department of Sociology at CUHK provides students with rigorous methodological training and exposure to research at the frontiers of a diverse range of subfields of sociology.
To help students build a successful career after graduation, the Department offers three concentration options, from which students can choose a maximum of two:
- Sociology and Social Policy
- Research Methods and Data Analytics
- Society, Sustainability and Technology
Society and Sustainable Development (SOCIN-SSD)
During the 2022–23 year, the Sociology programme will expand its Senior Year Entry admission quota by introducing a new stream, ‘Society and Sustainable Development’ (SOCIN-SSD). Collaborating with the Earth System Science programme of the Faculty of Science and the Gender Studies programme of the Faculty of Social Science, the new stream will provide cross-disciplinary training for students who wish to understand the key social and environmental challenges of our time and seek innovative solutions to them. Available only for Senior Year Entry admission, SOCIN-SSD will offer students a unique study path, specific subject knowledge, and technical skill attainment.
In many ways, sociology is the key subject for exploring and building a better future for society. Sociologists were the first to focus on the human impact and consequences of development, from modernisation in the early days to globalisation in recent times. Let’s hear from our sociology students who have a keen interest in furthering their knowledge or taking action to help achieve various sustainable development goals.
“In my first year of undergraduate study, every professor from the department told me about the importance of building sociological imagination. It helps us grasp the relationship between collective history and individual biography. Now, ambitious climate actions are urged, and creating a sustainable society is prioritised. As sociology students, we should and could contribute to sustainable future development by focusing on the interactive dimensions of individuals, societies, and the environment. I was the president of the 8th CUHK Agricultural Development Group (CU AGRO) and worked as the ambassador of the Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change. You might see me promoting local veggies and green diets in the Tuesday Farmer’s Market or guiding campus tours for guests! I can’t wait to see more sociologists and students bring different perspectives from the sociological field to environmental issues.” (Cherine Luk, Year 4 Sociology). For more of Cherine’s story, please see our Department’s website here.
Cherine worked as the ambassador of the Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change (left)
Wong Yi Nei, Elaine, Year 4 Sociology
“Studying sociology at CUHK has affirmed my passion for leveraging research in advocating for social change. My strong interest in public policy study stems from my internship experience at the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) and UNICEF, to which I applied through the Sociology Internship programme. At HKCSS, I assisted in research on the obstacles faced by applicants of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme. This experience helped me to critically reflect on why some social policies fail to deliver benefits to those who need and value them most. Another summer, I worked as an advocacy intern at UNICEF Hong Kong. This experience further enlightened me with knowledge in the fields of policy research and advocacy. Since then, I have developed a keen interest in policy studies, and I plan to pursue a postgraduate degree in this area.” For more of Elaine’s story, please see our Department’s website here.
Elaine’s (left) internship at UNICEF
If you wish to read more of our students’ stories, please see our Department’s Newsletter 2021–22 here.
Professor Tam noted the third feature of sociology. Specifically on studying sociology at CUHK, he said, “This is the place where frontier research meets a rich tradition of local social research.” The Department was a pioneer in the scientific study of Hong Kong society, launching the Social Research Centre in 1969. It also actively contributed to rebuilding sociology as an academic discipline in modern China.
Meanwhile, the Department has been dedicated to strengthening its connections with universities around the globe. Apart from running exchange programmes with the University of Kent and the University of Warwick, it has started to offer research internship opportunities at Princeton University to top students under the Distinguished Overseas Internship Programme. The Centre for Population Research (CPR) was established by the Department of Sociology in 2021 to advance interdisciplinary and cutting-edge research in population studies.
“The sociological imagination,” writes Mills in his book of the same name, “enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That is its task and its promise.” Are you ready to start your sociological imagination?
Last Updated: Summer 2022