Sociology was first taught in Trinity College in 1968, as a component part of the Social Studies degree. The first appointments in Sociology were made within the Department of Social Studies in 1971, when Sociology was approved as part of a joint honors programme within the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences. From 1972, a single honors programme was also established.
John Archer Jackson was appointed the first Professor of Sociology in Trinity and Head of the Department of Social Studies in 1974, having published a pioneering sociological study of The Irish in Britain in 1963. He took up the post in January 1975, when Sociology acquired its own accommodation on Pearse Street. Frank Bechhofer of Edinburgh University was appointed the first External Examiner, and was succeeded by Paul Hirst in 1977. In October 1978, the Department of Sociology became autonomous from the Department of Social Studies, and both departments moved to new accommodations in the Arts Building. Also at this time, the Department joined the new Two Subject Moderatorship programme (TSM), through which students could for the first time select Sociology at entry to Trinity, in combination with a variety of other subjects.
During these first two decades, departmental research focused on Irish society and there were some notable collaboration including the Department’s contribution to the Sense of Ireland exhibition in London in 1980. Brian Torode’s joint publication with David Silverman, The Material Word (1980) has become a classic text. Despite the absence of financial support in the 1980s, the Department built up a vigorous body of graduate students researching for degrees by thesis (M.Litt. or Ph.D.). It also gave a home to several visiting scholars, among whom was Al Cohen in 1979-80.The External Examiners to the undergraduate programme through the 1980s were Damian Hannan, Jane Marceau, Howard Newby, and Celia Davies.
During the early 1990s, new appointments were made through the HEA’s plan for the expansion of student numbers, responding to the increasing demographic and social pressures on third-level places in Ireland. In 1992, James Wickham took on the role of Head of Department for a three-year term. During this time, the Department introduced modularisation to its Sophister year modules, in order to facilitate international student exchanges, which were then being established through the Erasmus and other exchange programmes. The first funding for research postgraduates via Teaching Assistantships was also instituted in 1993.
In 1995, the Department, in conjunction with the Department of Social Studies, launched a new undergraduate degree in Sociology and Social Policy (SocSocPol). And in 1997, two new Masters’ programmes were launched: the MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies, directed by Ronit Lentin; and an MSc in Applied Social Research, directed by Evelyn Mahon, the latter being transferred to the School of Social Work and Social Policy in 2005 when the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy (consisting of the Department of Sociology, Economics, Political Science and Philosophy) was founded. External Examiners to the undergraduate programme during this decade were Richard Scase, Nigel Gilbert, and Norman Long.
Members of the Department were successful in obtaining research grants for international consortia from the European Union under the Framework Programmes, from the mid-1990s on, quite early in the life of these programmes. This took Barbara Bradby to Bolivia for a year as director of an international study on childbirth and maternal mortality, while James Wickham and Hilary Tovey were involved in consortia studying issues of transport, the European social model and the environment in Europe. In 1998, the Employment Research Centre (ERC) was set up and directed by James Wickham (1998-2012) and Peter Mühlau (since 2012). In the same year, James Wickham was awarded a Jean Monnet Personal Chair in European Labour Market Studies. Since 1998, the ERC has been involved in ten projects, of which seven were EU competitive funded projects - a level of 'grant capture' unprecedented for social scientists at Trinity College. Through the work of the ERC the Department has gained recognition for its success in European funding and expertise in employment issues. Evelyn Mahon obtained a grant from the Department of Health to lead a study on women and crisis pregnancy, resulting in an influential report and the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. Also during this decade, postgraduates who had completed PhDs in the Department started to take up academic posts in universities both in Ireland and abroad.
In 1997, John Jackson retired from the Chair of Sociology, having served as Head of Department again from 1995-7. Barbara Bradby took over the Headship on John Jackson’s retirement, overseeing the external review process, which College had instituted at that time in cases of vacant Chairs. This process was completed in 1998. However, as the College was under financial constraints at the time, it was not until 2001 that Robert J Holton was appointed the second Chair of Sociology. Hilary Tovey had served as Head of Department between 1999 and 2001, and was elected to Fellowship at Trinity College Dublin during the same year (2001).
A landmark publication at the end of this decade was Hilary Tovey’s and Perry Share’s A Sociology of Ireland (2000). Reprinted several times, this has become a widely used text, both by students and researchers on Ireland.
Bob Holton served as Head of Department until 2006, when Hilary Tovey resumed Headship until 2009. Bob Holton’s pursuit of a sociology of globalisation to challenge economic interpretations of the phenomenon brought welcome stimulus to the Department, which became an active player in the Institute for International Integration Studies, TCD. In 2004, Bob Holton, Ronit Lentin and James Wickham were funded by the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions (PRTLI) for a project on global networks in collaboration with the School of Drama, Film and Music and the School of Business. Ronit Lentin and James Wickham were instrumental in setting up the Trinity Immigration Initiative, which was funded in 2007 by Trinity Foundation /Allied Irish Bank. Other major research grants during this time include funding from NORFACE and IRCHSS (later renamed IRC).
Since Bob Holton’s retirement in 2008, the Chair of Sociology has again been vacant. Ronit Lentin took over as Head of Department between 2009 and 2012. During this time, the Department made several appointments in the areas of migration and conflict and streamlined its research efforts into four distinct clusters: Migration, Conflict and Social Movements, Employment and Work in Europe, as well as Digital Lives, Social Networks and Popular Culture. Following TCD’s new strategic partnership with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 2010, several Sociology staff strengthened their teaching and research links with the ESRI.
In the years since 2000, the Department has gained an international reputation in the area of migration, ethnicity and conflict, with some notable monographs, such as Ronit Lentin’s Israel and the Daughters of the Shoah (2000) and Co-memory and Melancholia (2010), Anne Holohan’s Networks of Democracy (2005), Daniel Faas’s Negotiating Political Identities (2010), Andrew Finlay’s Governing Ethnic Conflict (2010) and David Landy’s Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights (2011). External Examiners to the undergraduate programme in the years since 2000 have been Liam O’Dowd, Des Bell, Claire Wallace, Anne Byrne and Sally Shortall.
Related strands of internationally recognised research in the Department focus on migration and the labour market in Ireland and Europe, as well as migration and education. These have resulted in a prolific series of articles in scholarly journals on these topics by Peter Mühlau, Antje Röder, Elaine Moriarty, James Wickham and Daniel Faas. In 2005, James Wickham was elected to Fellowship at Trinity College Dublin in recognition of his research achievements and a year later, he published Gridlock: Dublin’s Transport Crisis and the Future of the City which resulted in extensive involvement in public debate, membership of a Consultative Committee on Green Paper on Local Government Reform and an international conference on Public Transport and Urban Citizenship organised by the School's Policy Institute. Bob Holton’s monographs on globalisation and related topics have reached out to a wide audience, including those he completed while in Trinity: Making Globalisation (2005), Global Networks (2007), and Cosmopolitanisms (2009).
In 2012, Daniel Faas was elected Head of Department and introduced a structured PhD programme, a joint TCD-UCD Public Lecture Series in Sociology, a Visiting Scholar programme and a range of undergraduate student prizes. During his second term as Head, Daniel Faas founded an innovative MSc in Comparative Social Change run jointly with University College Dublin which he has directed since 2016. In 2015, Daniel Faas was elected to Fellowship at Trinity College Dublin in recognition of his research achievements and, a year later, he received a Trinity Global Engagement Award for his longstanding promotion of internationalisation in College. At the same time, the Department won two Provost’s Teaching Awards (James Wickham and Daniel Faas), two Trinity Teaching Awards for Postgraduate Students, and became a major player in College’s new Global Relations Strategy. The MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies was renamed as Race, Ethnicity and Conflict, directed by Andrew Finlay (2012-15) and Anne Holohan (since 2015). In 2014, Richard Layte was appointed the third Chair of Sociology. His work focuses on the structure of social and economic stratification in modern societies and its impact on individual life-chances, health and well-being. In recent years, members of the Department have successfully applied for large-scale funding including two Horizon 2020 awards (Richard Layte and Anne Holohan) and a NORFACE project (Camilla Devitt) as well as various other smaller funding successes.