Comparative Social Inquiry

Humans are social beings. We live in families, tribes, cities, and nations, work in organisations, and interact through networks. The ways in which we co-exist play an important role in shaping our individual patterns of feeling, thought and action. In Comparative Social Inquiry, students engage with this social world by investigating central questions about society, social change and the human condition.

The course begins by asking the question “How did you get into Yale-NUS?” and encourages students to consider the role of social forces in shaping our life outcomes. From there, the course proceeds to explore a different topic each week through an overview lecture and two seminars. During the first six weeks of the semester, we compare family structures, the power of markets, the origins of nation-states and other social units, across the globe and over time. This raises difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions about what we assume to be ‘natural’ and ‘true’ in the world around us. During the second half of the semester, we examine different axes of individual identity and group difference, from race to gender to social class to religion, investigating the origin of these categories and their influence on individuals and groups. We end the course by exploring why individuality is still possible in our socialised lives and identifying the seeds of social change within existing social structures.

Throughout the course, we draw from classic works, contemporary events around the world, and empirical social science research to study different social units and institutions.

Learning Goals

Through deep reading and wide-ranging discussions, students:

  • Confront fundamental questions about society, markets, politics and their own behaviour.
  • Begin to question their position in the social world.
  • Develop a sense of how to evaluate social scientific claims.
  • Appreciate the interplay of social forces that create, sustain, and alter social institutions over time and space.
  • Learn a new vocabulary drawn from social scientific theories, and use it to explain individual and group behaviour.