Teaching sociology in an age of teaching ‘excellence’

O'Sullivan, Sara (2016) Teaching sociology in an age of teaching ‘excellence’. Irish Journal of Sociology, 24 (1). pp. 34-53. ISSN 0791-6035


In 2004 Wright et al. issued a challenge to sociologists, to examine ‘the effect of the structure of the academy on teaching and learning outcomes’ (2004: 155). In this paper I take up this challenge, beginning with a short overview of the changing Irish higher education context, highlighting three macro level changes that currently impact on teaching sociology in Ireland. I argue that such a structural lens is essential to our understanding of the meso (institutional and disciplinary) levels of teaching sociology. I argue a nascent ‘teaching and learning movement’ in Irish sociology may be emerging. A number of factors that have facilitated this are identified. However even a quick glance at Irish higher education also reveals contradictions and conflicts which threaten this movement before it is even established, including worsening staff-student ratios, increased casualisation of teaching and the neo-liberal turn. The paper concludes with a call for more sociologically informed work both on teaching and learning in Irish higher education, and on teaching sociology. This would enable more informed involvement in critical debates around teaching excellence at the national and institutional levels. It would also make public pedagogies currently in use for teaching sociology in Ireland.

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