NUS “Must-Take” Sociology Modules
Five semesters in, I finally feel like I belong with Sociology. Much has to do with the way I constitute ideas. I don’t rush into asking questions, making judgments, or finding formulas. I prefer to tackle readings on a clean slate and allow them to settle into the subconscious, until it becomes necessary to link them together. Call it lazy – not entirely wrong – but this is my way of keeping an open mind.
The following list of recommendations is thus greatly conditioned by my own tastes, from module selection to curriculum to assessment to lecturing style. Not performance, though; my grades for these modules range from A+ to C. (!) As I don’t believe in pet topics or pet theorists, I am drawn rather unusually to more “methodological” modules. By this, I mean modules which contain an identity of their own that significantly stretches what I understand by Sociology.
Before I proceed, I should give shoutouts to certain modules I didn’t take. SC2212 Sociology of Deviance by Prof Ganapathy is arguably the tour de force of pet topics among my peers. SC3225 Social Capital by Dr Vincent Chua is an increasingly pertinent concept in modern life and a module I regret not taking. Finally, SC3208 Religion in Society and Culture is the module whose readings I most desire to read.
# SC2211 Medical Sociology (AY14-15 Sem 2)
Lecturer: A/P Paulin Straughan / Tutor: Mr Quek Ri An
This was the first Sociology module in NUS that intrigued me. Prof Paulin provided my 1st Sociology lecture at the Open House, so I was very eager. She was armed with an ensemble of 4 supporting tutors, and explained their strengths upfront. Just the kind of introduction to blow your mind… not that I utilized such resources. Ri An’s tutorials remain my most engaging; he brilliantly probed us towards a balance between Sociology and Nursing perspectives. The optional field trip to KTPH was an eye-opener, as were the health log term paper and readings on medicalization and sociological imperialism. I believe anyone, in any year of study, can learn a lot about the value of Sociology from this module.
# SC2216 Emotions & Social Life (AY15-16 Sem 2)
Lecturer: Dr George Radics
Without doubt, the most well-designed curriculum I have encountered. The first half was theory, moving from philosophy to classical sociological theory (i.e. 3 thinkers; see SC3101) to a stunning array of theories on emotions, from symbolic interactionism and dramaturgy, to power/status, stratification and exchange theories. The second half was sorted into 5 emotions – anger, love, fear, pride/shame, humour – with each taking up a week. This is the one module I didn’t have to slowly figure out, but which enthralled me with the sheer breadth of content that reminds me that theory cannot be divorced from emotion. I posted my critique on “emotionless” assertions at SG here.
*# SC3101 Social Theory & Social Thought (AY16-17 Sem 1)
Lecturer: Dr Manjusha Nair
I can’t believe I’m including this. This is a compulsory introduction to the 3 key thinkers: Marx, Durkheim, Weber. The readings were progressively harder to decipher – Marx is entertaining; Weber is dry – but I learned the virtue of rereading when doing my Durkheim essay. Durkheim is easy to criticize for his positive-ist view, but I found myself retracting all my superficial criticisms as I reread his (translated) essays. Everyone, certainly those who like to namedrop Marx, should read and reread the original words of these 3 great classical thinkers by taking this module, before applying them to modern life, including everyday situations like doing online surveys or finding motivation to study.
^ SC3209 Data Analysis in Social Research (AY16-17 Sem 1)
Lecturer: A/P Paulin Straughan / Tutor: Ms Athel Jenell Hu
I am not kidding; statistics is fun! I admit I am the kind of weird nerd who used to love math, but anyone can benefit from Prof Paulin’s charisma in this module. In case she isn’t reason enough, understanding social statistics is imo the most important skill today to be an informed participant in democracy. Too many keyboard warriors dismiss any data incompatible with their worldviews. Worse still, the rest of us can’t – and don’t bother to – discern good from bad data, and determine whether an interpretation makes good sense. I learned that I need to feel no remorse for rejecting unethical market surveyors. We gotta make statistics cool again, to make our societies great again – starting here!
^ SC3213 Ethnographic Analysis of Visual Media (AY15-16 Sem 2)
Lecturer: Dr Ivan Kwek / Tutor: Mr Rafael Martinez Garcia
This may well be my most debatable pick. I have heard qualms from many over Prof Ivan’s open-ended style. What won me over is the reflexive nature of the assignments. Some may lament the lack of theory, but I believe it is essential to step out from the protective shadows of theory to appreciate the difficulties and nuances of interpreting cultures, even when captured in visuals. A lot of tutorial participation was expected, and I struggled. But the continual effort helped me write interesting reflexive essays. If SC3209 represents mainstream sociology, this module takes the spirit of anthropology. I’d argue that this is an equally “practical” module; in terms of becoming more empathetic to differences in cultures.
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Other Modules I’ve Taken (from AY14-15)
* SC1101E Making Sense of Society (AY14-15 Sem 1)
* SC2101 Methods of Social Research (AY14-15 Sem 1)
SC2210 Sociology of Popular Culture (AY15-16 Sem 1)
# SC2213 Childhood and Youth (AY16-17 Sem 1)
# SC2217 Sociology of Tourism (AY14-15 Sem 2)
SC2220 Gender Studies (AY14-15 Sem 2)
SC3204 Sociology of Education (AY15-16 Sem 1)
# SC3207 Cultures of Kinship (AY15-16 Sem 1)
SC3214 Sociology of Life Course and Ageing (AY14-15 Sem 2)
* Compulsory modules
^ SC3209, SC3213, and SC3221 Qualitative Inquiry are methodology courses; Sociology majors must complete at least one of them.
# Recommended for the selection of readings.
Do look out for changes in lecturers or course formats when making your own picks.
I received a query on SC3213 and Prof Ivan’s lecturing style, so I thought to share my response here for your viewing pleasure:
Prof Ivan’s lecturing style is rather open-ended; he will constantly generate application questions and ask for responses, e.g. describe our reactions to particular photos. I don’t consider him theoretical, because this is essentially a hands-on module. There’s a fair bit of theory in the readings, but they appear to be just tools to grasp the idea that the worlds captured in visuals cannot and should not be objective, since real cultures are subjective. Visuals can do what words can’t, but bring with them more complex challenges in terms of representing the subjective meanings of local cultures.
The best way to learn is not to depend on readings, but to learn through engaging with visual ethnographic material (he puts many documentaries on IVLE) and the hands-on assignments across the module. I found it refreshing, because by my 4th semester, what I understand by the study of society had been narrowed by habit. I believe that an open mind will take away from this module an even more open mind, having experienced the difficulties of understanding and representing other cultures. And that’s why I find it very practical.
Finally, Prof Ivan comes across as extremely passionate and receptive, to the extent I feel we students had let him down somewhat by not speaking out more during lectures.
Who are the profs for SC3207 Cultures of Kinship and Sociology of Life Course and Ageing when you took it? And how were the modules in your opinion?
I was taught by Dr Indira Arumugam for SC3207 Cultures of Kinship (AY15/16 Sem 1) and Dr Feng Qiushi for SC3214 Sociology of Life Course and Ageing (AY14/15 Sem 2).
Kinship is an anthropological module; it can be very hard to wrap your mind around the ideas as they are totally not intuitive to the usual ways we perceive social reality. But if we can suspend our preconceptions and study the non-modern examples as is, in the end it’s a fruitful exercise in reimagining ideas and practices easily taken for granted.
Life Course and Ageing is not a strictly sociological module; it draws also from biology, psychology, demography, and public health, while going briefly into the details of policies and arrangements involving the elderly. It’s an applied module that provides a grounding in ageing issues, but the highlight is learning to understand lives in terms of the influences of time and the life course.
May I know whether the lectures for the module SC2213 Childhood and Youth are webcasted? Also, what is the test format for the midterms and finals? For instance, are they mcqs or short answer questions or writing essays?
Nope the lectures were not webcasted. When I took the module, both the midterms and finals required us to write 2 essays, with some leeway for choice of questions.