In 1968 the university was a much smaller community; all of the faculty were on the academic senate, most knew each other and participated in teach-ins, and all were involved in shaping the general culture of UC San Diego. It was a time of profound social change, both in American society and academia. The emphasis at UC San Diego had come to be on uniqueness, on the special quality of its faculty. At a time when most sociology departments emphasized the quantitative analysis of societies, UC San Diego largely ignored this approach in favor of a variety of qualitative approaches. Prof. Joe Gusfield was appointed the founding chair of the department. With campus construction in its early stages, the fledgling department was originally housed in the former Marine barracks of Camp Matthews and from these temporary quarters, the groundwork was laid for a department unlike any other.
In the spirit of the times, the new department had some revolutionary objectives. As Joe Gusfield envisioned it, "I wanted a department that had much more of a concern with observation. I was also interested in historical sociology, I was interested in culture... all of these in one sense or another were part of what is now called a cultural turn- moving toward a greater importance given to how the world is perceived and given meaning, rather than correlations between factors."
Gusfield was joined in that first year by Jack Douglas, and soon after by Bennett Berger, Aaron Cicourel, Cesar Grana, and Fred Davis. Although they approached their subjects from somewhat different perspectives, these were all poineers in the emerging field of studies of social interaction and the foundation had been laid for an exciting new approach to sociology. The addition of Jacqueline Wiseman, Chandra Mukerji, and Carlos Waisman to the faculty consolidated UC San Diego's reputation as a major place for this approach.
As the department gained recognition, it began to draw graduate students from a wider and wider area. Graduate placements were getting better as well, and undergraduate enrollments steadily increased. By the early 80s, social science students at UC San Diego outnumbered math and science students. With the additions of Randall Collins, Will Wright, Bruce Johnson, Rae Blumberg, Bud Mehan, David Phillips, Bennetta Jules-Rosette, and Kristin Luker, the department was ready not just to handle the influx of students but to provide them with some new points of view. The new faculty members turned the attention of UC San Diego sociology toward the major social movements that sometimes challenged them. There was also a move to look beyond the United States to developing countries. Ruben Rumbaut began pioneering work on the sociology of immigration. The arrival of Andrew Scull, Tim McDaniel, and Richard Madsen furthered the move toward comparative historical sociology.
In 1986, UC San Diego was ranked as the top public university by the National Academy of Science. As it became an established leader within academia, the intial excitement and spontaneity of the early years had diminished, but was replaced by a steadiness that was deeper, wider, and richer in its scholarship. With the establishment of the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies and Eleanor Roosevelt College, the university increasingly took an international focus.
Sociology at UC San Diego was also broadening its horizons, and was joined by more faculty specializing in areas outside the USA and Western Europe. The presence of the distinguished sociologist of science Bruno Latour as a visiting scholoar in the mid-80s helped lay the groundwork for an interdisciplinary science studies program, which was established in 1989 with Andrew Scull as its first director. Steve Shapin joined the faculty to become on of the leaders in science studies. The department also began to broaden methodologically, emphasizing quantitative as well as the qualitative approaches that had marked its early years. This helped to attract graduate students on an even larger scale.
The growing needs of sociology students were met by the addition of Michael Schudson, Chuck Nathanson, Gershon Shafir, Jeff Haydu, Mary Freifeld, Richard Biernacki, Juan Diaz-Medrano, Akos Rona-Tas, Leon Zamosc, Christena Turner, Martha Lampland, Ivan Evans, Peter Evans, Harvey Goldman, Rebecca Klatch, Mary Ruggie, Steve Cornell, Ricardo Stanto-Salazar, Steve Epstein, Lisa Catenzareta, Ali Gheissari, Mounira Charrad, and Maria Charles. The department moved to the current Social Sciences Building in 1995.
During most of the 90s, the undergraduate education was greatly enriched by the teaching of Steve Lincoln. Since the late 90s, the department has been joined by John Skrentny, John Evans, Mary Blair-Loy, Amy Binder, Kwai Ng, Isaac Martin, Charles Thorpe, David Fitzgerald and Tom Medvetz. This new generation brings cutting edge theory and methodology to bear on some of the most important political and cultural issues of the new century.
The roots of Sociology at UC San Diego are not far buried today. The deparment of Sociology may have the most extensive and comprehensive program of comparative and historical sociology in the country and a large proportion of its members are engaged in the study of foreign countries: their institutions, culture, interactions with other nations, development and change. The international emphasis is expressed in the faculty's teaching commitment to the Graduate School of Global Policy and Strategy, the Science Studies Program, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt College, which is oriented around international studies. The department has strong, nationally recognized programs in the sociology of culture, science studies and the sociology of inequality (based on class, gender and race) is also becoming a central research and teaching field for many of its faculty members.