The Department of Sociology traces its origins to 1957, about thirty-six years after the inception of the University of Dhaka when the teaching of sociology began as official unit with the formalization of the full-fledged Department of Sociology. During the 1920s and 1930s, sociology was taught at the University of Dhaka as part of the ‘ethics course’ offered in the Department of Philosophy. The discipline was placed within the Department of Political Science in the 1940s, which was taught as part of an undergraduate course, and from the 1950s it was offered in the Master’s program in the same department. Under the guidance of Pierre Bessaignet, a UNESCO advisor and famous social anthropologist, teaching began at the University of Dhaka in the academic session 1957-58, with four faculty members. He was a pioneer of social anthropological research in the Indian Subcontinent at a time when sociological research was not a state priority in Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan). Later UNESCO stimulated collaboration with the Department of Sociology and began the momentum at the University of Dhaka to formalize the sociological research ties in this country.
There are some reasons why UNESCO took interest in this program? There was an urge to study society in the framework of natural science that gave a major impetus to establish sociology in the West. In line with this, UNESCO conducted a mission examining the feasibility of introducing sociology, social anthropology, and social psychology that spurred the creation of the department in Bangladesh. The mission was led by a renowned French structural anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss who visited the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) for a short period of time. The rich cultural diversity and livelihood practices of the indigenous people in the CHT region received attention from his field visit. He noted that indigenous people’s traditional culture is an invaluable source of ingenuity that could be a resource for anthropological research in this region. His keen observations eventually led him to make positive recommendations. Finally, the commission made recommendations in favor of introducing sociology at the University of Dhaka, and the recommendations drew attention to the government to establish a full-fledged department for research and teaching.
The vivid interest and influences of the West contributed to the establishment of the Department of Sociology at the University of Dhaka, and its influence can be seen in the appointment of Pierre Bessaignet who was a French anthropologist and was appointed as the first head of the department. Since its inception, UNSECO provided assistance for promoting sociological research through international cooperation in education, and by enabling the stints of foreign academics in the department notable of them were American Professor John Owen and the Dutch research fellow Co Pot Land. Since the 1960s, the number of foreign faculty members dropped and the Department began recruiting local graduates to fill their shortfalls.
Historically, the Department of Sociology at the University of Dhaka was seminal in establishing sociology within the academic system after the independence of Bangladesh and remains central to its institutional identity. Professor Nazmul Karim – one of the founders of Bangladesh sociology served as the inaugural Bengali head of the department of sociology at the University of Dhaka in 1958. He cultivated an influence on the development of Bangladesh sociology and the formation of the younger generation of sociologists. The earlier leadership team of this department encompasses academic experts from France, Germany, The Netherlands, and USA who worked collaboratively to improve and enhance the department’s teaching and research. While the sociology program was administered through the Faculty of Arts in the early days it was included in the Faculty of Social Sciences in 1973.
A significant responsibility of faculty members and students is to develop their research skills across the discipline areas. In the initial years of its establishment, the Department focused research on a wide range of social issues, such as on social stratification, cultural transition, agrarian relations, population health and migration. A few research monographs were produced reflecting on the life of small ethnic communities and agrarian structure and dynamics of change. However, after the liberation of the country in 1971, the departmental research concentrated more on developmental issues. Radical insights in the garb of Marxist ideas constituted the framework of different investigations. In the 1970s and 1980s, Bangladesh witnessed the emergence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in its developmental pursuit. It provided important opportunities in theorizing this transformation, particularly in the context of women’s empowerment and socio-economic integration of marginalized, which in many respects drew global attention.
The Department of Sociology at the University of Dhaka has a reputation as an inspiring and welcoming place to study. It played a leading role in the national growth of sociology and the other social sciences after 1971. The number of the department of sociology at the public university has increased to 10 by the end of 2020. The establishment of this Department at this university paved the way for teaching and research, and our graduates get well employed at public sector, multinational companies, at NGOs and at various levels and doing research and development at universities. Students graduated in and working in governmental positions have a very privileged position being able to look deeply at the trends affecting society and to use that position to shape policy and execution. At present, the departmental faculty members’ research initiatives focus on sociological theories, health, poverty, social inequality, family transition, natural resource management, environment, social movement, political development, demographic dynamics, and social marginality. The study on sociology of pandemic, sociology of diaspora, gender and ethnic minorities including human rights has also left an important footprint in this respect.
It is the largest sociology department in Bangladesh, enriched by the research excellence of internationally trained faculty members who completed higher studies mostly in the universities of North America, Europe and Australia. The quality of research of our faculty members is recognized through our leadership in national research programs. The sociology program at the University of Dhaka offers a wide range of courses through the curriculum, allowing students to diverse range of exposure to and understanding of our diverse and rapidly changing world. Currently the Department offers 50 courses both at Honours and Masters programs, ranging from Medical Sociology to the Development of Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology. Currently the Department offers the courses at four academic levels: Bachelor's with Honours, Master's, M.Phil as well as Ph.D.
The Department of Sociology provides a rigorous and academically challenging program of study that allows students to develop intellectually, socially, and professionally. It is the largest department in Bangladesh, with currently 30 faculty members and about 1130 students in its graduate and undergraduate programmes. The Department offers a diverse range of areas that contribute to our understanding of global people, societies, histories and cultures of Bangladesh society and help us understand social phenomena and to imagine the future. It offers courses that analyze society from broad institutional and global perspectives. The Honours program provides a more sophisticated learning experience which takes four years of full-time study to complete, providing a high degree of emphasis on research. Combining the experience and skills of faculty members, we have developed practical approach to the teaching of research methodology, producing filed work activities for data collection as well as seminars and publication of research outputs on the theory and practice of sociology. We take pride in our quality teaching and research to foster positive outcomes for our students.
The Department of Sociology has a long-established reputation for producing quality research and building a workforce that is grounded in diversity and embraces the unique skills and qualities to meet the demand. The Department undertakes high quality teaching and research in the areas of poverty, development, politics, gender, health, environment, welfare, urban planning and housing. Drawing upon multiple perspectives and areas, the Honours and Masters programs in sociology require students to look beyond preconceptions and equip themselves to promote change in society. The program’s approach equips graduates with a broad foundation of knowledge applicable to a number of career paths, with practical skills and knowledge for a successful career.
The Department makes every effort to revise its curriculum at least every three years. The emerging view of the curriculum is that it comprises 41 sociology courses of which 32 are taught at the undergraduate level. Updated knowledge about sociological issues led the department to revise its postgraduate curriculum every three years. Currently the Department offers 9 courses (out of 11) at the post-graduate level. The courses offered are wide-ranging in their scopes that allow students to enter a wide range of careers in a variety of role and responsibilities. While sociological theories are divided into three sections, namely, classical, contemporary and post-modern the course on methodology involves both quantitative and qualitative considerations.
The Department gives emphasis on the level of sophistication for the teaching and learning of statistics in the Honours program. Both elementary and advanced statistics are taught to help students develop statistical thinking with a deeper understanding of variability in data. In addition to this, we place a strong emphasis on developing social science research skills which are so valued by NGOs and development partners, with research methods training through empirical field work in Honours final year. The courses prepare students to value and understand the research process and how research-based knowledge can be applied to help improve the quality of people’s lives. The Department offers Masters in Sociology and Social Policy program for professionals to encourage students to apply their skills in social organizations which include topics such as social policy, environment, education, religion, health, migration, ethnicity and marginality, politics, and economy.
Despite the shortage of resources, the department is relentlessly trying to provide educational and informational facilities to the students to the highest possible degree. There is a seminar library in the department with around three thousand books that include recently published text as well as reference books. Each year text books on sociology worth of taka two hundred thousand are added to the central and departmental library. There is a well-equipped computer laboratory comprising more than 30 computers which is supervised by a system analyst. All classrooms are equipped with modern Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities. The department organizes study tours each year to enlighten the students to visit important social and historical sites. Besides, extra-curricular activities such as debates, cultural events are also organized to harness the creative potentials of the students. There is a support program for economically insolvent students although resource limitation often poses an obstacle to such initiative. Over the next few years, the department is looking forward to improve its teaching and other activities. In recent times, the department is receiving special technical support from the University Grants Commission.
The department is committed to maintain its reputation by building scholastic environment that gives for adequate opportunity to think critically and apply sociological knowledge to students’ personal experiences. The Department’s library has considerable collections of materials ranging from books, journals and research papers that cater to the needs of the students. It features a museum where valuable archeological materials have been preserved to educate students about artifacts from the various archaeological periods, analysis and interpretation of material culture and central aspects of the relationship between archaeology and today's society.