Sociology courses were first taught at the University of Alberta in the 1950s, including in the Faculty of Education and in the Department of Philosophy and Psychology in the Faculty of Arts. In 1960, the Department of Philosophy and Sociology was formed but, like many relationships in the 1960s, this one was very short. Sociology became an independent teaching and research unit a year later, in 1961, with six sociology and one anthropology professors, and Robert James as the first department Chair. Sociology and Anthropology experimented with departmental co-habitation between 1963 and 1966, but Sociology has been a single-discipline department since then, at least in name. In practice, the University of Alberta Sociology department today is one of the most-interdisciplinary Sociology departments in Canada, with faculty members and graduate students engaging in a wide range of exciting boundary-breaking scholarly research.
By 1990, the Sociology department had grown to become one of the largest departments in the Faculty of Arts, with 39 faculty members, almost 9700 student registrations, and 73 graduate students (41 PhD and 32 MA). The department declined in size over the next 25 years, at least in terms of faculty members, dropping down to 24 full-time colleagues by 2016. Student numbers also declined, but not nearly as much. Today (2016) about 8200 students register annually for Sociology courses, and the department is home to 67 graduate students (17 in several MA programs and 50 in the PhD program).
When the Sociology department was formed in 1961, faculty members were teaching and researching population dynamics, health, social inequality, race and ethnicity, family, crime, and urban society, among other topics. Almost all were using quantitative research methods. The Population Research Laboratory (PRL), an active and innovative survey research centre was established in the Sociology department very early on, in 1966. Today, the department is home to the Intermedia Research Studio with its emphasis on cultural studies and visual sociology, as well as the PRL, and faculty members and graduate students are employing qualitative, quantitative, interpretive, feminist, and historical methods. Along with more traditional sociological sub-areas, they are focusing their teaching and research on gender, aging, globalization, social theory and socio-legal studies, cultural studies, surveillance, terrorism, the environment, work, immigration, life course studies and other emerging areas. A quick look at some of the department newsletters from the past decade will highlight different aspects of the vibrant intellectual environment in the department.