Skip to main content
Aerial view of people crossing a public square

Sociology and Criminology

Society shapes our world. Understand how.
Our world-leading academics examine many aspects of how society and individual behaviour influence each other. We research and teach on elements of society that shape our world.

Interpreting the thorny questions arising in modern times – whether inequality, environmental crises, or social identity – requires a strong understanding of the path that society has taken to bring us where we are today. Our study of sociology, socio-legal studies, criminology, and social justice gives students powerful tools for grasping clearly the world’s countless international and domestic issues. Our commitment to research and teaching helps explain why our sociology program placed 26th internationally in the 2021 QS World University rankings.

Through our discipline, you can gain exposure to four world-renowned initiatives:

  • The Sydney Environment Institute is a national and world leader in multidisciplinary environmental research, extending and amplifying the scope of the engagement on environmental issues; and bringing together expertise from across disciplines to address key environmental problems in favour of the public good.

  • The LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building has built a framework for the study of knowledge and education to analyse a growing range of practices across education, law, politics, art, and public understandings of science.

  • The Sydney Peace Foundation awards the annual Sydney Peace Prize – Australia's only international prize for peace. Previous recipients include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, Professor Noam Chomsky, the founders of Black Lives Matter, Patrick Dodson and Joseph Stiglitz.

  • The Sydney Centre for Healthy Societies harnesses social science and humanities expertise to understand and transform how health and social life intersect on our changing planet.

Our study offerings

Sociologists study social life, institutions and social change, explore how the modern world came into being and how it might develop in the future. Studying Sociology will enable you to recognise, research and analyse the dynamics of power and inequality in our everyday lives and the organisation of society. 

Undergraduate 

*Available to all students studying the Bachelor of ArtsBachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Visual Arts, as well as all combined Bachelor of Advanced Studies degrees.  

Research  

Criminology is devoted to the study of crime and its causes, deviance, social control and the operation of the criminal justice system, examining topics such as policing, youth justice, prisons and punishment, surveillance, crime and media, Indigenous justice, forensics, and corporate and state crime.

Undergraduate 

*Available to all students studying the Bachelor of ArtsBachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Visual Arts, as well as all combined Bachelor of Advanced Studies degrees.  

Human rights combines social, scientific and legal approaches and provides a holistic perspective on human rights and social change. The course addresses human rights violations at local, national, regional and global levels. 

Postgraduate 

Peace and Conflict Studies focuses on the interconnections between peace, conflict, justice and human rights. From conflict transformation after mass violence to the role of the media in peace building, Peace and Conflict Studies explores the intellectual and practical challenges of attaining peace with justice. 

Postgraduate 

Research

Confront the challenges of achieving just and sustainable development outcomes that will improve people’s social, economic and cultural lives.

Postgraduate 

Research

Social policy is concerned with a range of questions including: How will wealth and wellbeing be distributed in the 21st century? Do social policies challenge or reinforce inequality? How does Australia compare to other nations on measures of welfare? 

Undergraduate 

*Available to all students studying the Bachelor of ArtsBachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Visual Arts, as well as all combined Bachelor of Advanced Studies degrees.  

Research  

Socio-Legal Studies is the study of legal ideas, practices and institutions in their social, historical and political contexts. It explores the ways laws are made and enforced as well as the impact of legal practices on our everyday lives and the organisation of society. You will learn to understand how the law operates across different societies, and gain research and analytical skills that are highly desired by employers in private industry, non-profit organisations, and the government sector.

Undergraduate  

*Available to all students studying the Bachelor of ArtsBachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Visual Arts, as well as all combined Bachelor of Advanced Studies degrees.  

Our research

From academic work to commissioned reports, from popular press to podcasts, our Discipline’s research delves deeply into the world’s most pressing theoretical and practical issues. Research topics have included disarmament, human rights and corporate responsibility, Aboriginal night patrols, non-violent policing, the effects of racism on Lebanese youth in Western Sydney, and justice and reconciliation in Rwanda, Cambodia and East Timor.

Currently, our research is grouped around the following thematic clusters:

 

Knowledge is a central feature of contemporary economies, societies and personal lives. Our scholars embrace cutting-edge approaches to knowledge, including southern theory, world society theory and Legitimation Code Theory, that represent a unique combination of insights within one department. Studies cover a distinctively broad range of areas, from school classrooms to disciplinary history, from global flows of knowledge to local interactions between individuals. Work in this theme has been recognised within and beyond the University with the award of a SOAR fellowship, the LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building, and an ARC Discovery Grant focused on Knowledge-Making in Australian Society: Sociology and it's Social Impact.

Key researchers

Karl Maton, Fran Collyer, Salvatore Babones, Dr Ben Manning, Dr Leah Williams Veazey, Sharon Aris (HDR), Elena Lambrinos (HDR), Patrick Locke (HDR), Mauricio Quilpatay (HDR), Saul Richardson (HDR), Mathew Toll (HDR), Zhigang Yu (HDR), Rurong Le (HDR).

Resources

- Knowledge and Global Power: Making New Sciences in the South

Brings together key scholars who investigate death and trauma arising from physical and structural violence, focusing on questions such as:

  • How to decolonise the ways in which historical and contemporary death and trauma of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are constructed by the state?
  • How to investigate methodologies recover and recognise victims– e.g the exhumation of the disappeared, commissions of inquiry into institutional abuse?
  • How has transitional justice approached death and trauma as the legacy of violence in contemporary post-authoritarian societies and in historical settler societies?
  • How do issues of class, sexuality, gender, disability and race shape understandings of trauma, reparations and justice?

Key researchers

Catriona Elder, Robert van Krieken, Michael Humphrey, Sonja van Wichelen, Rebecca Bray, Greg Martin, Fiona Gill, Allen George, Karen O’Brien, Danielle Celermajer and Estrella Pearce.

Resources

- Legitimating Life: Adoption in the Age of Globalization and Biotechnology

- The Ecology of Torture (podcast)

People today face conflicting demands to “be themselves” in a cosmopolitan and hyper-public, mediatized world. Within instituted hierarchies and social networks, dialectics of control permeate struggles for authenticity and autonomy and attempts to form meaningful relationships with others. Our research explores these paradoxes of authenticity and community, their impact on the emotions and capacity for intimacy, and the broader implications for personal freedom, social imaginaries, and global modernity. 

Key researchers

Craig Browne, Jennifer Wilkinson, Salvatore Babones, Karen O’Brien and Tim Soutphommasame.

Resources

- On Hate

- The Public Life of Friendship

The Larrakia Petitions for a Treaty and Land Rights

Drawing from emerging fields such as science and technology studies, animal studies, posthumanism, environmental humanities, new materialism and critical race studies, our researchers seeks to reconceptualise societies in ways that focus attention on the social, political and economic dynamics of life (human and non-human), networks, technologies and environment, and to questions of justice amongst them. This grouping involves scholars engaged in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences FutureFix BioHumanity and Multispecies Justice research themes. In addition, scholars involved in Posthuman Socialities convene the Biopolitics of Science Research Network and the Human Animal Research Network

Key researchers

David Bray, Dinesh Wadiwel, Danielle Celermajer, Nadine Ehlers, Sonja van Wichelen

Resources

- Deadly Biocultures: The Ethics of Life-making

Examines the logics of asset-based capitalism and investigates the new forms of inequality and precarity accompanying its rise. It looks at everything from the high rentier economies of energy monopolies, urban infrastructure booms and intellectual property regimes, to the everyday rentierism of negatively geared investors and the work/rentier hybrids represented by Airbnb hosts and uber drivers. The theme involves scholars engaged in the FASS FutureFix Asset Ownership and New Forms of Inequality research theme and the Collaborative Research Support Initiative on Energy It's Institutions, Networks and Lived Experiences.

Key researchers

Melinda Cooper, Amanda Elliot, Michael Humphrey, Lisa Adkins, Monique Mackenzie (HDR), Greta Werner (HDR) and Carolyn Vaughn Brennan (HDR)

Resources

- The Time of Money

- Capital and Time

Our people

Honorary Professor Stephen Castles

The Discipline of Sociology and Criminology remembers with great respect and affection the life of Professor Stephen Castles who passed away in August 2022.

Stephen was a leading international scholar in the field of migration and published landmark works which will remain classics for generations. His work – clear, comprehensive, and always attentive to structural elements that informed migration and refugee flows – has laid the foundation for countless scholars that follow him. He spent the longest period of his career at the Centre for Multicultural Studies at the University of Wollongong, where he engaged in a great deal of policy work for the government. It is also where he met his wife, sociologist Ellie Vasta. Following that, he served as the Director of the Refugee Studies at the University of Oxford, which he led with great equanimity and force. His final position prior to retirement was the University of Sydney, where he led a young group of PhD scholars on a major ARC project that delved deeply into the force of social transformation and its relationship to migration. Stephen was dedicated to his students and treated them with great respect, and in turn, they adored him. Throughout his illustrious career he used his stellar reputation to promote the rights of refugees and migrants, serving on advisory boards and participating in policy working groups. He was greatly appreciated by his department colleagues as warm, humorous and intellectually engaged, always willing to contribute to the common good. Stephen’s enormous network of family, friends and academics will miss him greatly and always remember him.

Events

For a full listing of our upcoming events, please visit the School's events calendar.

Discipline Chair

Dr Susan Banki

In memoriam

Honorary Professor Stephen Castles

School of Social and Political Sciences

Phone
  • +61 2 9351 2650 
Email

Zaina Ahmed

Zaina Ahmed
Sociology student
“I was chosen by the department to participate in an informal exchange with the University of Tokyo, where I got to explore cultural differences in how cities are designed and built as well as how we think about urban spaces.”
Download our undergraduate course guide (pdf, 4.8MB)

Featured news