Research Clusters

Penn Sociology organizes its research, training, and varied activities through a cluster system, established around 1990 to identify the strengths of the department for both internal and external audiences. Cluster groups evolve according to faculty and student interests, with the establishment and closing of clusters approved by the Chair. Currently, Penn Sociology research clusters include:

  • Culture, Interaction and Ethnography
  • Education and Inequality
  • Family and Gender
  • Media Activism
  • Medical Sociology
  • Population Studies
  • Race, Ethnicity and Immigration

Research Cluster Workshops

Clusters sponsor one or more ongoing workshops. Workshops offer opportunities for students to participate, as audience members and as speakers, in presentations of cutting edge research in cluster areas, by scholars at Penn and visitors.

*All workshops held at 12PM in McNeil Building Room 169*


Cluster Descriptions

Culture, Interaction and Ethnography
Organizer: Benjamin Shestakofsky

Culture is largely instantiated and reproduced through face-to-face interaction. At the same time, culture can be created and transformed in such encounters, when new ideas are infused with significance and old ones are found to be inadequate to the interactional challenges at hand. This workshop brings together faculty and students from Penn and other colleges and universities for informal talks and discussion about culture and interaction, in addition to current research on a variety of issues relevant to contemporary urban life and the culture of cities.

Education & Inequality
OrganizerHyunjoon Park and Emily Hannum

The Education and Inequality Cluster focuses on causes and consequences of socioeconomic and educational inequality. Penn Sociology has a broad representation of faculty working in this area, with particular strengths in the areas of race, class, ethnicity, gender, and comparative international research. In addition to the faculty based in the Sociology Department, students interested in this area of study have access to faculty located in Penn’s nearby Graduate School of Education. A joint-degree Ph.D. program in Sociology and Education is available for those who are interested in scholarship at the intersection of sociology and education. Graduate students from Penn’s Graduate School of Education often enroll in sociology graduate courses, and sociology graduate students avail themselves of expertise available in GSE. The Education and Inequality Cluster sponsors weekly works-in-progress meetings, bi-monthly cluster workshops, and an annual mini-conference on a theme chosen by participants.

To join the Education and Inequality Cluster mailing list, please go to this link.

To join the Canvas site for sharing documents, please go here.

Family & Gender
Organizer:  Jerry A. Jacobs

The family is an important institution through which a host of social processes get played out. Thus, understanding family formation and functioning is especially important, particularly given the dramatic demographic changes of the last five decades. This workshop gives faculty members from various departments across the university, as well as graduate students in the Sociology and Demography graduate groups, the opportunity to present ongoing research on families and gender. Occasionally, individuals from outside of the university are invited to present their research. The workshop presentations are generally informal, and presenters are encouraged to leave time for feedback. 

Media Activism
Organizer: Guobin Yang

The Media Activism Research Collective (MARC) offers a collaborative space for graduate students, faculty, and activists working at the intersection of media studies and social movement theory. The MARC blog can be found here: 

Medical Sociology
Organizer: Jason Schnittker and Courtney Boen

The Medical Sociology workshop gives students the opportunity to expand their understanding of the sociological study of medicine and health. The workshop critically engages students with the social and cultural framing of what is defined as “illness”; the structural factors that may contribute to those illnesses; and the interactive dynamics between healthcare providers and patients. The workshop connects the organization of social groups with the profession of medicine, the practice of medical care, and the social factors that contribute to sickness and well-being. Through both formal presentations and informal discussion, the workshop exposes students to theoretical developments and empirical work from both within and outside the academy around medical sociology. The Medical Sociology workshop continues Penn's long tradition of quantitative and qualitative scholarship on the topic. 

Population Studies
DirectorHerb Smith

The Population Studies Center Colloquium provides a direct link between the Sociology Department and the Population Studies Center. In its original incarnation, population studies mainly concerned demography: the study of the growth and structure of human populations, primarily in terms of fertility, mortality, and migration. As the field of population studies has evolved, so too has the PSC at Penn, which is a major national resource for our understanding of the dynamics of human populations, including health and well-being, human resources, networks, and policy evaluation. For additional information, please visit the Population Studies Center For a full list of presenters please visit the PSC colloquium.

Race, Ethnicity & Immigration
Organizer: Chenoa Flippen

Scholars have come to appreciate the complex, dynamic, and fluid nature of the concepts of race and ethnicity and the process of immigration—leaving a field that can seem disjointed, confusing, and at odds with itself. The race, ethnicity, and immigration workshop brings together interested graduate students and faculty to discuss and consider the critical sociological questions with which research continues to grapple in these fields. Through both formal presentations and informal discussion, the workshop strives to challenge assumptions, highlight important work, and engage theory and empirical work from both within and outside the academy on these topics. The workshop hopes to both offer members of the group the chance to present early-stage research and to bring in outside speakers to offer fresh insight from outside the workshop's membership.