Social Inequalities

Study programme

Curriculum

The programme consists of 60 ECTS. Three core courses and a thesis together add up to 45 ECTS focused on the master programme specialisation Social Inequalities. The remaining 15 ECTS are devoted to a methods course and an elective. Please click on one of the courses in the programme overview below to see the course descriptions. 

Electives 

The programme features one elective in block 2, but an elective can also be selected from courses offered in other master’s specialisations in Sociology.

Mode of education

Each core course is composed of a series of lectures and small-scale tutorials. The lectures present the main theoretical and empirical insights about the topic of the course. In the tutorials, students learn to analyse and apply these insights by discussing and presenting various assignments in small groups.

The curriculum is subject to alteration. No rights can be derived from this information (including the information via the links).

    • Block 1

      • What are dimensions of inequality? How unequal are societies we live in? Is it getting better or worse? What factors determine these trends? In this course, students will develop the tools necessary to critically evaluate such questions. Students gain an overview in the many dimensions of inequality in contemporary societies (e.g. economic, ethnic, gender, spatial). Special attention is given to the mechanism through which these inequalities are produced and reproduced in social institutions like the family, school, neighborhood and workplace. Furthermore, we will focus on the consequences of social inequalities in terms of individuals’ wellbeing and health. Students will learn how researchers study these processes in national and international contexts. They will learn about the challenges facing scholarship, and participate in key debates that animate contemporary inequalities research.

        Learning goals 4.1 Social inequalities: An introduction

        After successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

        1. Explore central concepts through which sociologists investigate inequality.
        2. Develop a descriptive and analytical understanding of how class, gender, ethnicity and other dimensions of inequality impact interactions, institutional placements, choices, and social policy in contemporary societies.
        3. Become familiar with key debates that animate contemporary research on inequality.
        4. Consider and critique competing explanations for social stratification and social mobility.
        5. Learn about how these concepts are applied in quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods empirical research

        After successful completion of this course, students will also have developed the following skill:

        1. Be able to write an academic paper on patterns, causes and consequences of social inequalities
    • Block 2

      • The interplay between families and macro-level contexts is crucial for understanding the challenges which modern societies face. Families are a key link between macro-level processes (political, cultural, and economic shifts) and individual outcomes such as socioeconomic and health status in later life. In other words, many of the decisions that you might perceive as fundamentally personal and individual (the kind of job taken or whether to work at all, whether to become a parent or not, which country to live in) are shaped by the interaction between our families and broader social, cultural, and institutional conditions. Furthermore, the significant changes observed in the family arena in the past decades (e.g., decreasing fertility rates, shifts in the division of paid and unpaid labour between partners) have crucial repercussions for the challenges which societies already are and will continue to face in the future, such as increases in inequality.

        In this course, students will learn about the links between families (at the micro-level of individual lives and the meso-level of social networks) and social inequalities. Students will gain insights into key theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of families and social inequalities. Attention will also be paid to interactions between micro- and macro-levels of analysis; e.g. how markets (e.g. the precariousness of jobs), states (e.g. social policies and national laws) and political, cultural and economic shifts structure family members’ life courses and well-being outcomes, thereby reducing, maintaining or strengthening social inequalities at large.

        Learning goals 4.2: Families and inequalities

        After successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

        1. Explain the key theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of families and how they relate to issues of social inequalities;
        2. Indicate the implications of changes at the macro level (e.g. policies, cultural climate, economic circumstances) for family relations over the course of life;
        3. Illustrate how the major changes in family life in developed societies have implications for the maintenance, reduction and strengthening of social inequalities;
        4. Assess how policies and legal arrangements shape inequalities within and between families.

        After successful completion of this course, students will also have developed the following skills:

        1. Read and evaluate research published in academic journals, books and popular / policy publications;
        2. Deliver oral presentations that build arguments and assess evidence in a clear and effective manner;
        3. Comment in a constructive way on other students’ presentations.
      • See below.

    • Block 3

      • Structural inequalities and social, economic and demographic developments affect the social risks that citizens face. Those consequences are moderated by institutions of the welfare state and the labor market, which adapt their arrangements in response to these developments. However, while institutions mitigate social inequalities (i.e. reducing the income gap between the rich and poor through redistributive policies), they simultaneously produce new social inequalities (often as unintended consequences).

        In this course we will focus on the complex interplay between social consequences of recent social, economic and demographic developments and institutions of the welfare state and the labor market. We will focus on both old and new social inequalities (e.g., those that occur in post-industrial societies) and will discuss, among others, developments in old age provisions, social support, balancing work and family life, and health care. In this course, students investigate the role that organizations, labor markets and welfare states have in maintaining, strengthening or weakening social inequalities. In doing so, we will take a comparative perspective and focus on developments in different European countries.

        Learning goals: 4.3 Governing social inequalities: The role of welfare states and labour market characteristics

        After successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

        1. Identify sociological theories concerning welfare states and labour market conditions;
        2. Reflect on how institutions of the welfare state and the labour market are affected by economic, social and political developments;
        3. Illustrate how the institutions of welfare states and the labour market mitigate ‘old’ social inequalities while simultaneously producing and intensifying new ones (often as unintended consequences)
        4. Apply sociological theoretical framework to analyse social policies and their social consequences;

        After successful completion of this course, students will also be able to:

        1. Critically assess empirical evidence and propose/evaluate possible research designs for a given question
        2. Report findings in a clear and effective manner (in writing).
      • In the process of writing the thesis proposal, students learn:

        • To formulate an adequate and sociologically relevant problem definition;
        • To differentiate between descriptive and explanatory research questions;
        • To adequately use sociological theory and sociological findings to deduce hypotheses from, or to base qualitative expectations on, which will lay the groundwork for one’s theoretical framework;
        • To provide an overview of the existent literature on the chosen research field, resulting in a detailed and specified research question for one’s own thesis;
        • To create an appropriate and fitting research design for the research question formulated;
        • To assess the feasibility of a research design;
        • To reliably operationalise the leading concepts of the study;
    • Block 4

      • In the final block, block four, students have their undivided attention for conducting the research leading up to their master thesis. In this block they will learn to independently conduct all necessary steps in the empirical cycle of conducting social science research. They will also learn to discuss the theoretical value of the study conducted and assess the study’s sociological, and scientific relevance. Finally, they will learn to be able to clearly and adequately communicate the main findings of the study to both an expert and a lay audience.

         

        Learning goals 4.3/4.4 Master thesis

        In the process of writing the thesis proposal, conducting the research necessary to answer the research questions, and reporting on the study conducted, students learn: 

        1. To formulate an adequate and sociologically relevant problem definition;
        2. To differentiate between descriptive and explanatory research questions;
        3. To adequately use sociological theory and sociological findings to deduce hypotheses from, or to base qualitative expectations on, which will lay the groundwork for one’s theoretical framework;
        4. To provide an overview of the existent literature on the chosen research field, resulting in a detailed and specified research question for one’s own thesis;
        5. To create an appropriate and fitting research design for the research question formulated;
        6. To assess the feasibility of a research design;
        7. To reliably operationalise the leading concepts of the study;
        8. To independently conduct the empirical study on secondary or primary (self-collected) data, using relevant methods and techniques;
        9. To discuss the sociological/theoretical value of the study conducted and assess the study’s sociological, and scientific relevance;
        10. To be able to clearly and adequately communicate the main findings of the study to both an expert and a lay audience;
        11. Criticise and comment on the thesis (proposal) of other students.

         

    • Programme electives

      • This course sensitizes you to the social and material groundedness of public issues in intersectional systems of power related to gender, class, ancestry and (post)colonialism, economic class, technology. It familiarizes you with cutting edge work in social theory, as told through cases that reveal the varied power of the socio-technical infrastructures that provide the context for public contestation (by authors such as Haraway, Hall, Roy, Star, Bowker, Edwards, Kitchin, Starosielski, and Mattern). Infrastructure here includes both the material settings of—to give two possible examples—water or internet infrastructure, and the social organization and work practices that go into the making of publics and issues, such as standards for ‘clean’ water or debates over corporate control of internet bandwith.

        You will learn a selection of major approaches in contemporary social theory, and will yourself form strategies for thinking with/against these approaches and applying them to relevant public issues. The aim is to come up with new ways to address the varied infrastructures of power that infuse struggles over contemporary issuess in particular places and times. The course also highlights the ways that the legacies of past power imbalances continue to shape current debates, and how the uneven form and contexts of social issues, such as legacies of sexism and colonialism, can change through an awareness of the lives and theorizing of actors who were traditionally omitted from public debates. It puts socio-material power imbalances at the core of social theory, and uses these to better address which publics and issues become visible and how more heterogeneous solutions can become viable.

        One way to think about infrastructures is as the concrete manifestation of power across time and space. So the role of space and the uneven effects of power in infrastructures are also central to this course. It also pays attention to the significance of relatively recent technological infrastructures, in particular to ‘digital infrastructures’ and to the ways these transform, and are transformed by, public debates. For example, you may learn to empirically study how online algorithms sort out what can become visible and what counts as public knowledge, and the ways that technology can alternately alleviate or deepen social injustice.