As a prime center for sociological research, the Department of Sociology represents a diverse range of epistemological, theoretical and methodological approaches that drive an equally diversified spectrum of research and teaching areas, including (but not restricted to):

The association between societal well-being and environmental quality is an important topic of sociological inquiry. Environmental sociology as a subdiscipline within sociology explores the various forms of interaction between human society and the environment. Environmental sociologists seek to understand a variety of topics, including agrifood systems, environmentalism as a social movement, the ways in which societal members perceive environmental problems, the origins of human-induced environmental decline, the relationship between population dynamics, health, and the environment, and the role that elites play in harming the environment. The inequitable social distribution of environmental hazards is another central area of environmental sociological research, with scholars examining the processes by which socially disadvantaged populations come to experience greater exposures to myriad environmental hazards including natural disasters.

Environmental sociology represents one of several focal areas of research and teaching in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Incoming students may explore any topical area within environmental sociology, but our faculty’s specific expertise includes population-environment dynamics, agrifood systems, environmental inequality and justice, environmental hazards and disasters, environmental regulatory agency dynamics, the sources of variation in power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions, and the role that elite-controlled institutions play in harming the environment. Complementing these strengths, faculty in the sociology department’s other concentrations conduct research in areas that strongly inform environmental sociology, including gender and race relations, population-health dynamics, political economy, criminology, and the governance of commodity chains.

Graduate Course Offerings

  • Foundations of Environmental Sociology
  • Inequality, Democracy, and the Environment
  • Population and Environment
  • Environmental Justice and Social Stratification
  • Social Dimensions of Environmental Disasters
  • Rotating topic seminars in Environmental Sociology

The sociology department’s graduate program offers a PhD degree and trains students to become creative and productive scholars and teachers. The department maintains strong emphases in the theories and methods of the discipline to provide students with sound basic training regardless of their area of specialization. The department’s theoretical and methodological areas of emphasis include classical, contemporary, and modern theory and qualitative and quantitative research methods and analytical techniques, with the environmental sociology faculty employing a broad range of theoretical perspectives and qualitative and quantitative methods in their research.

The Boulder campus is renowned for its environmental focus in both teaching and research and offers many opportunities for productive interactions with environmental scientists and social scientists in other disciplines. In addition, the Front Range region of Colorado is replete with governmental and non-profit organizations that focus on environmental issues. As examples, sociology faculty have been involved with campus and local organizations such as:

  • The Population Program, Environment & Society Program, and Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS);
  • The Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado;
  • The University of Colorado’s Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI);
  • The Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment, University of Colorado Law School;
  • The University of Colorado’s Environmental Center;
  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL);
  • The Environmental and Social Impacts Group (ESIG), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR);
  • The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES);

There is also a campuswide Graduate Certificate Program in Environmental Policy, which offers graduate students the opportunity to gain interdisciplinary experience with environmental issues. Environmental issues obviously transcend ordinary academic boundaries, and policy analyses designed to deal with environmental problems must integrate insights and information from many different disciplines. The graduate certificate program draws on courses in anthropology, economics, biology, geography, philosophy, political science, psychology, sociology, architecture and planning, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the College of Media, Communication and Information, and the University of Colorado Law School.

Faculty Profiles 

Liam Downey (PhD, University of Arizona) is an associate professor of sociology, faculty associate in the Institute of Behavioral Science, and faculty associate in the Environmental Studies Program. He studies the role that elite-controlled organizations, institutions, and networks play in harming people, societies, and the environment, focusing in particular on elite-controlled policy planning networks, armed violence organized by the state, commodity chain power, and international trade and finance institutions such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. He also studies environmental inequality in U.S. metropolitan areas, with a particular emphasis on the residential mobility dynamics that disproportionately place single mother families and racial and ethnic minorities in highly polluted neighborhoods.

Don Grant (PhD, The Ohio State University) is a professor of sociology, an affiliate of the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, and a faculty associate in the Institute of Behavioral Science’s Environment and Society and Health and Society programs. In addition to his ongoing research on environmental justice and the causes of chemical plants’ toxic releases, he is currently investigating the effectiveness of U.S. states’ climate change policies and with Andrew Jorgenson and Wesley Longhofer, he is planning an international project on the impact of trade relations, normative systems, organizational structures, and political institutions on power plants’ CO2 emissions. 

Jill Lindsey Harrison (PhD, University of California at Santa Cruz) is an assistant professor of sociology whose areas of expertise include environmental sociology, sociology of agriculture and food systems, environmental justice, political theories of justice, and immigration politics, with a regional emphasis on the United States. She has used her research on political conflict over agricultural pesticide poisonings in California and recent escalations in immigration enforcement in rural Wisconsin to identify and explain the persistence of environmental inequalities and workplace inequalities facing Latino immigrants in the United States today. Her new research project analyzes environmental regulatory agencies’ efforts to institutionalize the principles of environmental justice. In addition to numerous articles and chapters, she published Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice (MIT Press, 2011), which has won book awards from the Rural Sociological Society and the Association of Humanist Sociology.

Lori Hunter (PhD, Brown University) is an associate professor of sociology with primary areas of expertise in demography and environmental sociology.The intersection between the two areas provides a framework for her examination of human-environment interactions.Dr. Hunter’s work to-date has examined four areas of human-environment interactions, 1) population, land use change, and biodiversity, 2) migration and environmental risk, 3) public perception of environmental issues, and 4) the social distribution of environmental hazards. Dr. Hunter is a faculty research associate with the Program on Environment and Behavior, of the Institute of Behavioral Science.

Kathleen Tierney (PhD, The Ohio State University) is a professor of sociology and director of the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The Hazards Center is housed in the Institute of Behavioral Science, where Professor Tierney holds a joint appointment. Dr. Tierney's research focuses on the social dimensions of hazards and disasters, including natural, technological, and human-induced extreme events. With collaborators Michael Lindell and Ronald Perry, she recently published Facing the Unexpected: Disaster Preparedness and Response in the United States (Joseph Henry Press, 2001). This influential compilation presents a wealth of information derived from theory and research on disasters over the past 25 years. Among Dr. Tierney's current and recent research projects are studies on the organizational response to the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center disaster, risk perception and risk communication, the use of new technologies in disaster management, and the impacts of disasters on businesses.

The sociology of sex and gender is among the most significant and exciting fields in contemporary sociological research and thought. As a foundation for the development of feminist theory and research methods, the discipline of sociology has been a leading academic field in the creation of new and innovative paradigms that study and analyze social behavior, social theory, and social phenomenon from the perspective of women and women's roles in social life.
The graduate specialization in gender provides a graduate level education in the sociology of gender, engaging students in the contemporary discourse on feminist theories and the intersection of race, class and ethnicity in the study of women. The goal of the specialization is to engage the students in an in-depth and theoretically grounded analysis of gender and social relations.
The program at the University of Colorado offers the opportunity to do advanced level research on women in a supportive and exciting academic environment. The graduate curriculum focuses on national and global contexts; women's participation and transformation of culture, society, and politics; violence against women; postmodern theoretical perspectives; and research methods.
The faculty in gender are nationally recognized scholars who represent a wide range of interests and areas of expertise that include criminology, ethnography, stratification, social psychology, and religion and ethnicity. The course offerings reflect the diversity of cutting edge research and methodology that characterizes gender studies. The program is among the most innovative gender specializations currently available in sociology PhD programs across the country.

Graduate Seminars

To fulfill the course requirements for the gender specialization, students may choose from among the following graduate course offerings:Core Courses:

  • Feminist Theory
  • Feminist Research Methods

Specialized Courses

  • Sociology of Race, Class, and Gender
  • Family and Society
  • Postmodern Social Theory
  • Interpretive Social Psychology
  • Ethnographic Research Methods
  • Violence Against Women and Girls
  • Social Psychology of Gender

Faculty Profiles

Leslie Irvine (PhD, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1997.) Primarily a social psychologist, Professor Irvine studies the creation of meaning and identities. She is the author of two books. Co-dependent Forevermore: The Invention of Self in a Twelve Step Group, focuses on the discourse of recovery and how people adapt it to the problems in their lives. If You Tame Me: Understanding our Connection with Animals, examines relationships between people and companion animals and theorizes the selves of animals. She is currently completing a book on animals in disasters. She teaches courses on social psychology and theory.
Janet L. Jacobs (PhD, University of Colorado 1985.) Professor Jacobs specializes in the social psychology of gender. She is author of numerous books, including Victimized Daughters: Incest and the Development of the Self and Hidden Heritage: The legacy of the Crypto-Jews. Her research has also appeared in Signs and the Journal for the Social Scientific Study of Religion. Her current work is on gender, religion/ethnicity, and collective memory. She teaches courses on feminist theory, social psychology, and gender and religious culture.
Stefanie Mollborn (PhD, Stanford University, 2006). Professor Mollborn currently studies teenage mothers and fathers and their children, including the way gender shapes their experiences. Her other interests are social psychology, childhood and adolescence, families, social inequalities in health, and studying gender through quantitative methods. Her research has been published or will appear in Social Psychology Quarterly, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, and Journal of Marriage and Family. She teaches courses on gender, social psychology, and social disparities in health.

Rachel Rinaldo (PhD, University of Chicago, 2007). Professor Rinaldo is a cultural sociologist interested in gender, globalization, social change, and religion, with a special focus on the developing world and Muslim societies(

The sociology of crime and deviance is the study of the making, breaking, and enforcing of criminal laws and social norms. Its aim is to understand empirically and to develop and test theories explaining criminal and deviant behavior, the formation and enforcement of laws, and the operation of criminal processing systems.

The program in criminology at CU Boulder examines questions fundamental to any criminological study: What causes crime? Why do some people violate norms? What can or should be done about such acts for both the offenders and the victims? Why do we have the laws that we do and how are they enforced? What empirical research exists on these issues?

A Critical Edge

CU’s program in criminology further develops these standard questions with both theoretical and empirical attention to issues of social justice. The program’s particular strength lies in its diverse array of theoretical and methodological approaches to the sociology of crime, deviance, and justice. Its faculty combines both sophisticated quantitative and innovative qualitative research methodologies to advance analyses of law, criminal and social justice, and deviance.

State Responses to Crime & Violence

Areas of specialty include research on the implementation of the death penalty; police abuse of force; international human rights violations; state constructions of, and responses to, juvenile crime; and the complex relationships between law and violence.

Developmental Criminology

A hallmark of CU’s criminology program is its emphasis on developmental and life course issues in the study of crime and deviance. The program is home to some of the most influential longitudinal studies of criminal behavior, including the Rochester Youth Development Study, the Denver Youth Survey, and the National Youth Survey. All of these studies trace the causes and consequences of offending across the life course.

Identity, Inequalities & Law

Research conducted by faculty in the criminology program is especially attentive to the ways in which legal and criminal processing systems construct, maintain, and reflect structures of societal inequality. Emphases within the department include racial disparities in sentencing outcomes; feminist and critical race jurisprudence; law and society; bias crime; and gendered criminality and laws.

Research Opportunities

Opportunities for graduate students to be involved in major research projects abound, both in the department and in the affiliated research program on Problem Behavior & Positive Youth Development that is part of CU’s Institute of Behavioral Science. All of the longitudinal studies mentioned above are part of the problem behavior program, as are projects on domestic violence and the award-winning Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. These diverse projects offer many opportunities for research experience on both basic and applied topics.

Graduate Seminars

  • Topics in Criminology
  • Criminological Theory
  • Patterns of Criminal Behavior
  • Punishment and Social Control
  • Capital Punishment in the United States
  • Gender, Race, Class, and Crime

Faculty Profiles

David Pyrooz ( PhD , Arizona State University,2012). Professor  Pyrooz's research focuses on gangs and criminal networks, incarceration and offender reentry, crime trends and life course criminology, criminal justice policy and practice.

Michael L. Radelet (PhD, Purdue, 1977). Radelet’s research focuses on mainly on capital punishment, both in the U.S. and around the world, including such issues as deterrence, race, erroneous convictions, and public opinion.

Tim Wadsworth (PhD, University of Washington, 2001). Professor Wadsworth’s research uses quantitative methods to examine the influence of structural and cultural forces in shaping patterns of violence and crime in the United States. His recent publications have examined how urban characteristics can help us understand rates of interracial homicide, the suicide rates of different racial and ethnic groups, and how the growth in immigration can help us explain recent drops in crime.”

Few departments of sociology currently house adequate concentrations of qualitative scholars to offer graduate training in the theories and methods of this area, leaving many faculty members actively seeking a place to send their best undergraduates and a university from which to hire people schooled in the core of this sub-field. At the University of Colorado, we have one of the largest concentrations of qualitative sociologists and offer one of the strongest bases for this type of training. Courses are offered in a two-year rotation. Students are encouraged, but not required, to take the entire sequence in order. The course rotation includes the following:

Academic Year 1 

  • Fall: Qualitative Methods (SOCY 6121)
  • Spring: Social Psychology (SOCY 7131)

Academic Year 2

  • Fall: Qualitative Analysis (SOCY 7121)
  • Spring: Writing Qualitative Research (SOCY 7171)

Qualitative Methods (SOCY 6121)

This seminar reviews the definitions, histories, and debates surrounding the practice of ethnographic research as it has evolved in English-speaking contexts. It provides hands-on training in the practical application of ethnographic methods. Students learn to study contextualized social interaction in a holistic, interpretive, and ethically responsible manner. Each student also develops a solid portfolio of fieldwork and interview notes. Basic analytical methods and ethnographic writing strategies are introduced.

Qualitative Analysis (SOCY 7121)

This course guides students through the process of writing and revising an article for publication. The seminar begins by assisting students with inductively conceptualizing empirical data into a thematic empirical focus. Students then develop the theoretical implications of these data into a conclusion. Throughout the process, students become familiar with four genres of ethnography: classical ethnography, mainstream ethnography, postmodern ethnography, and pop ethnography, and these are deconstructed to understand their varying audience, voice, rhetoric, and claims.

Social Psychology (SOCY 7131)

Examines how the self and the social world interpenetrate, as well as how individuals influence one another. Includes both experimental and symbolic interactionist approaches, but concentrates on the latter. Discussions focus on questions of the nature of the person, the formation of conduct in everyday life, and the ways that people create and change the meaning of objects and actions.

Writing Qualitative Research (SOCY 7171)

Students develop a piece of writing over the course of the semester (typically an article for publication or a thesis chapter). By working in writing teams of three to four members, students provide ongoing support and feedback to other members of the group and hold one another accountable as writers. Each week, members of each team comment on one members’ manuscript. In addition to tackling writing basics, the seminar also examines the contexts in which academic writing gets done, work habits, and the self. Students read exemplary writing to get a sense of what works, what doesn’t, and why, and to think about diverse styles of representation.

In addition, the following courses from the gender concentration supplement the qualitative/interpretive curriculum:

Feminist Epistemology and Methods (SOCY 7026)

This seminar considers the development of feminist methodology in the social sciences and the contemporary discourse on methods, subjectivity, and feminist approaches to qualitative sociology. Readings draw on post colonial and gender research orientations to interrogate the research process from the perspective of fieldwork, participant observation, the compilation of respondent narratives, and the role of the researcher in the research setting. Discussions examine the relationship of the researcher to the research site and the research population. Topics of study include feminist research ethics, the role of empathy and emotion in the research process, the role of the researcher as "insider/outsider," and the structural and power dynamics of ethnographic inquiry. Also considers how the self as researcher and the researcher's social location and positionality inform the research question, the gathering of data, and the interpretation of findings.

Feminist Theory (SOCY 7036)

Introduces contemporary feminist theories, focusing on how interdisciplinary feminist scholars reconceive analytic paradigms in the social sciences. Pays specific attention to the intersections of feminist theory and qualitative research traditions, particularly as these are affected by redefinitions of ideals of objectivity. Examines how knowledge is constructed and deployed in practical case studies; how feminist perspectives challenge and inform methodology; and how feminist analysis reconfigures traditional disciplinary categories through its attention to gender and sex as they are inflected by other identity formations such as class, race, nation, culture, sexual orientation, and age.

Faculty Profiles

Jill Lindsey Harrison (PhD, University of California at Santa Cruz, 2006) is an assistant professor of sociology. Her research areas of focus are environmental sociology, sociology of agriculture and food systems, political theories of justice, and immigration politics, with a regional emphasis on the United States. In her research, she has used mixed methods to examine the cultural and political economic structural supports for environmental and workplace inequalities in agriculture. She recently published Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice (MIT Press, 2011), in which she investigates the different theories of justice that shape political conflict over agricultural pesticide poisonings in California. Additionally, through her research on Latino immigrant dairy workers in Wisconsin, she has studied the social justice implications of recent escalations in immigration enforcement. She is beginning a new research program on environmental regulatory agencies’ efforts to institutionalize environmental justice, and is particularly interested in identifying the extent to which those efforts cohere with the principles underlying the environmental justice movement. In addition to her book and several chapters in edited volumes, her publications include articles in Society and Natural Resources, Geoforum, Antipode, Political GeographyAgriculture and Human Values, and Social Problems.

Leslie Irvine (PhD, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1997) is an associate professor of sociology. Primarily a social psychologist, her research areas include the self, the emotions, gender, and human-animal interaction. Her work has appeared in Qualitative Sociology, The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, The Sociological Quarterly, Society & Animals, Social Problems,Gender & Society, and Symbolic Interaction, as well as in edited volumes. Her books include Codependent Forevermore: The Invention of Self in a Twelve Step Group (1999, University of Chicago Press), If You Tame Me: Understanding Our Connections with Animals (2004, Temple University Press), Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters (2009, Temple University Press),  and My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals (2013, Lynne Rienner Publishers), and the edited reader, The Self in Society (2013, Cognella Academic Publishing). Professor Irvine's methodological specialties are ethnographic fieldwork, interviewing, and narrative analysis. At the graduate level, she teaches social psychology and theory.

Janet L. Jacobs (PhD, University of Colorado, 1985) is a professor of sociology. Her research areas include gender, religion, and social psychology. She is a recognized scholar in the areas of women and religion and culture, ethnicity, and identity. Her current work is focused on cultural memory and the representation of gender. She is the author of four books: Divine Disenchantment: Deconverting from New Religious MovementsVictimized Daughters: Incest and the Development of the Female SelfHidden Heritage: The Legacy of the Crypto-Jews; and Memorializing the Holocaust: Gender, Genocide and Collective Memory. These works are based on ethnographic study that employs a variety of methodologies, including participant observation, in-depth interview, the recording of life history narratives, and content analysis of cultural symbol systems.

Christina Sue (PhD, UCLA, 2007) is an assistant professor of sociology. Professor Sue’s research focuses on immigration and comparative race/ethnicity (specifically identity formation, multiracialism, intermarriage, race relations, and racial ideology), with a regional focus on the United States and Latin America. Her work has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, the Annual Review of Sociology, and Ethnic and Racial Studies, among other venues. She is the author of Land of the Cosmic Race: Race Mixture, Racism, and Blackness in Mexico (2013 Oxford University Press). Her current research examines how immigration policies affect the decision-making process of Mexican migrants; the various dimensions and expressions of Mexican American ethnicity; and the formation of racial attitudes in Mexico. Professor Sue primarily uses ethnography, interviewing, and focus group methodologies in her research.

Kathleen Tierney (PhD, Ohio State University, 1979) is a professor of sociology and director of the Natural Hazards Center, part of the Environment and Society Program in the Institute of Behavioral Science. She conducts research on hazards, disasters, and risk, with an emphasis on the political economy of disasters. Her qualitative research expertise includes quick-response field research following disasters; in-depth interviewing; qualitative evaluation research; and focus group methods. Professor Tierney teaches courses on qualitative data collection and analysis.

Population and health involves the examination of important social, cultural, and economic trends through an interdisciplinary perspective, often making use of demographic research methods. At the University of Colorado Boulder, population and health faculty undertake research on a number of topics including the patterns between environmental conditions and migration, family structure and aging, teenage sexual behaviors and childbearing, and social inequality and health.

To address important research questions, graduate students apply demographic theories and methods to rich cross-sectional, longitudinal, and contextual data sources. Graduate students are trained for a wide range of professional, academic, and research roles in public and private organizations concerned with population issues and problems.

Incoming graduate students may examine any topical area within population and health, but our faculty research interests include environmental demography, social inequalities in health, and migration and distribution. Of course, many researchers find interconnections between these research areas, as shown below.

Population & Health Research Areas 

Environmental Demography

A new and exciting area of demographic research explores population-environment interactions. This work typically examines the ways in which population patterns are associated with environmental context. As examples, CU Boulder faculty and graduate students examine the human dimensions of environmental change, the social distribution of environmental hazards, and natural resources and rural livelihoods in developing nations.


CU Boulder faculty and graduate students conduct extensive research related to health behaviors and conditions. Ongoing work examines the effects of socioeconomic status, neighborhood conditions, race, ethnicity, gender, and governmental policies on inequality in overall health, as well as specific health behaviors—including smoking, drinking, and risky driving—and health conditions—such as obesity, perceived health status, and HIV/AIDS.

Migration and Population Distribution

A large body of important social research has emerged on migration and inequality, including the effects of immigration on both sending and receiving populations. CU Boulder faculty and graduate students undertake research on the measurement of migration, as well as the association between migration and social and economic characteristics. We also explore the association between environmental context (such as hazardous waste sites and pollution) and human migration patterns.

Graduate Course Offerings in Population & Health Include:

  • Population Issues, Problems, and Policies
  • Population Studies: Fertility and Mortality
  • Population and Environment
  • Environmental Inequalities and Social Stratification
  • Social Disparities in Health
  • Biodemography
  • Topics in Stratification: Social Demography of Race and Ethnicity
  • Rotating topic seminars in Population & Health

Because of the interdisciplinary character of population and health, there are many relevant graduate course offerings in other departments. For instance, the Department of Geography offers graduate seminars in migration, urbanization, and development; population geography; and formal population geography: analysis and forecasting. Also, the economics department offers a seminar in economic demography.

Population Program in the Institute of Behavioral Science

The Population Program, within the Institute of Behavioral Science, offers a multidisciplinary program of research for graduate students and faculty within the departments of sociology, geography, and economics.The Population Program encourages collaborative and interdisciplinary research, sponsors a Working Paper Series, and features a series of research presentations. The Population Program includes the Population Aging Center (PAC), funded by the National Institutes of Aging, which examines the interconnections between aging, health, and family structure from national and international perspectives. Furthermore, the program also includes the NICHD-funded University of Colorado Population Center (CUPC), which provides infrastructural support to faculty and students. For example, CUPC regularly offers specialized summer short courses. You can see an example of these courses on their site

Finally, the Population Program offers an interdisciplinary Certificate in Demography. The certificate program, the oldest of its kind at CU Boulder, combines interdisciplinary social science research with graduate training.

Faculty Profiles

Jason Boardman (PhD, University of Texas at Austin): social inequalities in health, neighborhood processes, and racial stratification.

Liam Downey (PhD, University of Arizona): environmental inequality, urban demographic change, pollution and health, GIS.

Lori Hunter (PhD, Brown University): population and environment, environmental inequality, migration.

Stefanie Mollborn (PhD, Stanford University): social inequalities in health, social psychological processes influencing inequality, childhood and adolescence, adolescent sexual behaviors, and families.

Fred Pampel (PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign): gender, race, and SES differences in smoking over the life course, changing inequality in health behavior, and cross-national patterns of tobacco use and tobacco policies.

Richard Rogers (PhD, University of Texas at Austin): social inequalities in health, aging, and social differentials in longevity.

For more information about the Population Program, go to the Institute of Behavioral Science web page.