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The sociology of North America as it is represented at the John F. Kennedy Institute consists of two main areas of research and teaching: first, the sociological analysis of social structures and processes in North American societies; second, the theoretical approaches and research programmes originating in North America. Both areas are intertwined: Theoretical approaches and research programmes are often used to describe, explain and analyze social structures and processes in North American societies.
Historically and systematically significant theoretical approaches and research programmes, and in particular pragmatist and functionalist social theory, therefore constitute basic topics of teaching. Moreover, the debates about contemporary and historical problems of North American societies are basic topics of teaching and therefore equally significant. To understand North American societies, it is indispensable to also include North American culture – primarily mass and popular culture – in the analysis. The approaches of cultural sciences and of cultural sociology complete the account sociology can provide of North America societies. Consequently, the public sphere, mass media, and religion constitute central topics for teaching and research. Qualitative, hermeneutic methods of empirical research make the culturally defined social realities of North America accessible. As in other realms of teaching and research the sociology of North America has originated innovative patterns, e.g. the methods of visual sociology.
The department’s fields of research are additionally supplemented by projects in the field of social theory (theories of communication and, in particular, visual communication), of social integration (and the mass media and mass culture contributing to it) and of social change (particularly catastrophic social change and change by destruction).