The Department of Sociology traces its origin to 1957, nearly thirty-six years after establishing the University of Dhaka in 1921. During the 1920s and 1930s, sociology was taught at the University of Dhaka as part of the “Ethics Course” offered under the Department of Philosophy. In the 1940s, sociology was taught as an undergraduate course in the Department of Political Science. The same Department offered a Master's program in sociology in the 1950s. Under the guidance of Pierre Bessaignet, a UNESCO advisor and famous social anthropologist, the Department of Sociology at the University of Dhaka began its journey with four faculty members in the academic session 1957-58. Pierre Bessaignet headed this Department when sociological research was not appreciated by the Pakistani state (Bangladesh was then known as East Pakistan).
UNESCO played a crucial role in establishing the Sociology Department at the University of Dhaka. First, there was an urge in western academia to study society through the lens of natural science, which gave a significant impetus to establish a Sociology Department in European and non-European countries. UNESCO brought this civilizational agenda of the western world to many non-western countries, including Pakistan. Next, UNESCO conducted a feasibility study to introduce sociology in Bangladesh. As a part of that program, Claude Levi Strauss, a renowned French structural anthropologist, visited the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and found an urgency of studying indigenous communities from sociological and anthropological perspectives. Levi Strauss then made a strong recommendation to create the full-fledged Sociology Department at the University of Dhaka. This recommendation drew the attention of the Pakistani government to establish the Sociology Department.
UNSECO provided continued assistance to promote sociological research and teaching in Bangladesh through international collaboration with the Department of Sociology. As a part of this collaboration, the Department was further adorned by some foreign scholars, including American Professor John Owen and the Dutch research fellow Co Pot Land. After the mid-1960s, foreign faculty members began to leave the Department. The Department then started recruiting local graduates to fill its vacant positions. Professor A. K. Nazmul Karim, one of the founders of Bangladesh sociology, began serving in 1958 as the inaugural Bengali head of the Department. He tremendously contributed to popularizing sociological research and teaching in Bangladesh and creating a new group of young sociologists. While the Sociology Department at the University of Dhaka was placed under the Faculty of Arts in its early years, since 1973, it has been administered by the Faculty of Social Sciences.
This Department's contribution to Bangladesh society can be examined by some measures: research, human capital development through teaching and training, the institutionalization of sociology, and public sociology.
From 1957 to 1971, the Department's core research areas included social structure, social stratification, agricultural transformation, rural power structure, the formation of the state, class, and capitalism, cultural conflict, and population. A particular focus was then given and still continuing to study ethnic and religious minority communities of Bangladesh. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Department extended its research focus to political and developmental issues. Until today, the Department's faculty members and students have conducted numerous research projects to understand how governmental organizations (GOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) contributed to the country's overall development or underdevelopment. The Department also became part of many research projects to understand gender inequality, social marginality, and women empowerment. Later the Department focused on studying nationalism, urban issues, poverty, exclusion, environment, natural resource management, health and illness, globalization, migration and diaspora, labor rights, social movements, social inequalities, transformation in marriage and family, science and technology, and social marginality.
The Department's contributions to empirical research were/are informed by many sociological theoretical schools. These schools included Marxist and Neo-Marxist approaches, modernization theory, the functionalist perspective, interactionist theory, critical theory, and postmodern theory. The Department also made a significant contribution by offering various theoretical ideas and introducing methodological concepts from Bangladesh's context. Some of the Department's senior professors have created and maintained a few sociology journals, including Bangladesh e-Journal of Sociology. These journals have regularly been publishing empirical and theoretical articles in the area of sociology. The Department also established the Nazmul Karim Study Center in recognition of Professor Karim’s contribution to sociology. The Department regularly organizes national and international conferences as well as research colloquia.
II. Teaching, Training, and Human Capital Development
The Department has been playing an extraordinary role in developing human capital. The Department of Sociology at the University of Dhaka has the country's largest and leading sociology program. It has over 30 faculty members and nearly 1,130 students in its graduate and undergraduate programs. The faculty members have Ph.D. and Master's degrees from reputed universities of North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. They are intellectually vibrant and nationally and internationally known scholars and teachers. The Department offers four distinct degrees: Bachelor of Social Science, Master of Social Science, M.Phil, and Ph.D. Currently, the Department offers 50 courses at Bachelor and Master's programs, ranging from Introductory Sociology to Medical Sociology to Contemporary Sociological Theory. The Department used to update its curriculum every three years to address social changes observed in global and local arenas.
The Department provides rigorous training of qualitative and quantitative methodologies to its students. The Department's foundational and intermediate statistical courses prepare students to understand their social world numerically. These skills also equip the students to analyze social problems while working with GOs and NGOs. The Department also offers a professional Master's degree (Masters in Sociology and Social Policy) to provide students fundamental skills in handling real problems in workplaces or broader social arenas. This MSSP program also prepares young professionals as social policymakers. The Department encourages students to understand their personal and social life by using theoretical tools and empirical research. This intervention also brings positive changes to students’ life. The Department is always committed to providing an inclusive and effective learning environment to its students to prepare future informed citizens of the country.
The Department provides various educational and technical facilities to its students. Students have access to over 3,000 books in the seminar library of the Department. This Departmental library also adds many newly published sociology books to its collection each year. It also recommends the university's central library to purchase the recently published sociology books at home and abroad. The students also have access to the Department's computer lab with more than 30 computers and internet connections. All classrooms are equipped with modern information and communication technologies. In recent times, the Department has been receiving special technical support from the University Grants Commission. The Department houses a museum where valuable archeological materials and historical artifacts are stored to educate students about the country's cultural and social heritage. The Department organizes study tours each year to enlighten its students by visiting important social and historical sites of Bangladesh and foreign countries. It also hosts various creative and extra-curricular activities, including debates, performing arts, and cultural events. It always supports needy students financially.
Since the beginning of the Department's journey, our graduates have been showing a strong track record in pursuing their careers by securing the country's best jobs in government and non-government sectors.
III. The Institutionalization of Sociology
The Department has been playing a leading role in institutionalizing the sociology discipline across the country. The Department was directly involved in establishing the sociology department at ten public universities and some private universities. Some faculty members of this Department also established a few Departments and Institutes at the University of Dhaka, including the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Criminology, and the Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies. The faculty members of the Department also regularly appear on the search committee of almost all sociology departments that existed in the country. The Department also organizes sociologists across the country by creating the Bangladesh Sociological Association.
IV. Contribution to Public Sociology
The Department also has a tremendous contribution to public sociology. Many faculty members of this Department are involved with numerous public service offices across the country. They hold various administrative positions or provide policy guides to the government and non-government bodies. They are also vital in multiple social/global justice movements, including women empowerment, environmental justice, labor rights, human rights, indigenous rights, and land rights. Some faculty members are regularly visible on mass media to discuss the country's critical sociopolitical, cultural, environmental, and public health issues.
Finally, the Department of Sociology is unique because of its roles in innovative research, effective teaching, developing human capital, institutionalizing sociology, and public sociology. It has remained as the country’s leading sociology Department due to its significant contribution to producing new knowledge through research, disseminating knowledge through publication and teaching, preparing young professionals and future informed citizens, and directing the country towards progress, equality, environmental justice, and sustainable development.