skip to main content
A-Z Index Directory Calendar Libraries Webmail
Faculty Focus
~ with ~

Jonathan Eastwood Laurent Boetsch Term Associate Professor of Sociology

"At an undergraduate level, you want to make sure that you master at least one discipline with its particular theories and methods. But you don't want to limit yourself to just one perspective. You want to be able to see some subject matter from multiple angles."

What courses do you teach?
I teach introduction to sociology pretty regularly. I also teach a course called Neighborhoods, Culture, and Poverty, which serves the interdisciplinary Shepherd Program of Poverty and Human Capabilities Studies. In the spring, I teach a course called Exploring Social Networks in which students learn how to do network analysis. We graph and then study the properties of structured sets of relationships between people, states, and other entities. That's a fun class. I'll also be teaching a new course in winter 2016 on social simulations. I'm especially excited about that one. Occasionally I teach upper division electives on topics like nationalism or social revolutions.

How did you become interested in sociology?
Really it was a teacher. As an undergraduate, I was a philosophy major and then transferred into this small interdisciplinary program called the University of Professors Program, where they assigned each student to a mentor. My mentor was a sociologist named Liah Greenfeld. She really had, and continues to have, a big effect on me.

What is your area of research?
I work on a few different things. The common theme is an interest in collective identities. How are collective identities shaped by other societal factors and how do they then affect the societies in which they are embedded? Mostly I focus on nationalism and national identity. By national identity, I mean the type of identity that prioritizes the nation, thinking of it as fundamentally sovereign and therefore the source of legitimacy in politics. I'm interested in how that form of identity, which was not widespread globally 500 years ago, took over the world in the sense that now every country and individual is expected to have a national identity. This can be tricky because there are many areas of the world where boundaries of states do not necessarily correspond to the group identities that are meaningful to people. In such cases, many questions arise. How did colonialism, for example, which often involved the external imposition of political boundaries, affect the development of colonial and post-colonial populations' identities over time? How might we expect these areas to develop differently than if there was a one-to-one correspondence between the group identity and the state? With these sorts of questions, I use the comparative method to generate, examine and test theories about how the timing of different societal factors — such as politics, economic development, group identities, and religion — affect each other.

Sociology seems to examine a convergence of elements. Many students at W&L have multiple majors and academic pursuits. Do you see students combining these interests in your classes?
Definitely. W&L's a great place for that. We have some strong interdisciplinary programs that facilitate this kind of thinking. I am involved in the Shepherd Program for Poverty and Human Capability Studies and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies programs. My department — the Department of Sociology and Anthropology — is itself interdisciplinary. Those are just a few of the many great interdisciplinary programs here at W&L. Beyond classes, I'd point to great opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and exchange in this year's Questioning Passion Series, in the various programs sponsored by the Mudd Center for Ethics, and others.

How would you explain interdisciplinary studies to a prospective student?
We would have to start by discussing what disciplines are. You can think of "disciplines" as organized groups of scholars who have developed specific theories and methods for tackling their chosen problems. When you pick a major, you are really selecting the core theories and methods of its corresponding discipline as those in which you will develop undergraduate level expertise. However, none of the disciplines are exhaustive of the ways in which a person might want to examine some question. At an undergraduate level, you want to make sure that you master at least one discipline with its particular theories and methods. But you don't want to limit yourself to just one perspective. You want to be able to see some subject matter from multiple angles. Take Latin American and Caribbean Studies, for example. Latin America is a group of societies and a geographical space. You can study that like I would, as a social scientist, asking questions, gathering data, generating hypotheses, and testing those hypotheses. Or you can study those societies from a literary point of view and try to understand how people have narrated life in them. Or you can view Latin America in terms of its physical geography, and so forth. While those are different methods, experience has taught us that employing multiple methods to look at the same thing really enriches your perspective.

What kind of interdisciplinary projects have you and your students worked on?
There have been many good ones, and I'm sure you don't have time for more than a couple. Right now, I'm working with Ford Carson '18 on developing an agent-based model, which is a computer simulation, of the diffusion of national identity in a population. We are trying to develop a theory about how identities shift in a population, then examine and illustrate it by simulating it with a model we construct in software called NetLogo. The software will take our theory's determinate features of identity choice, add an element of randomness, and allow us to run simulations. This will allow us to see how the theory would shake out in a large population of individuals as we vary key parameters in the model, extending our ability to imagine where our theoretical ideas lead. Here's a very different example. Last summer, another student, Amira Hegazy '15, did field work in Egypt. She interviewed artists and curators of galleries and other art forums for her Sociology of Art project that tried to understand the Egyptian art world after the Arab Spring revolution. She was looking at how it has changed and whether it is becoming more global in its style and reach. Those are just two projects that spring to mind out of many.

What tangible results have your students' Poverty and Human Capability Studies projects had in the community?
One of my students, Catherine Elder '15, did a network analysis of information sharing and referrals among local nonprofits that serve individuals experiencing poverty. She identified all those organizations and interviewed their representatives. She pulled these data into a graphing package and created visualizations and ran some analyses. She produced a report that allows people who work in the local nonprofit sector to see: who is sharing information, who is referring clients to whom, where there might be gaps, where they might be redundancies, and where the network itself might be endangered if a relationship were severed. She did an excellent job. That was a really fun project to be involved in.

What keeps you busy outside the classroom?
When I am not working, most of my time is family time. I'm married and have three kids, ages 11, 6, and 3. They're wonderful, and they keep me busy. I also run. I was a very ambivalent runner for a number of years, and then a group of friends drew me further into it. A growing group of runners, many of them W&L faculty and staff, has developed over the last few years. I wouldn't call myself a serious runner even now; but I do spend a lot more time with it, mostly because of that group of friends. It's just fun.

- interview by Laura Lemon '16 and Jinae Kennedy '16

A Foundation in
Ethics and Leadership

At Washington and Lee, leadership and integrity go way back--and hand in hand.

In Action People and Programs

"My wish is that in the near future and far beyond, our students will say that their lives were enriched by having had the opportunity during their time at W&L to grapple with challenging moral and ethical dilemmas as preparation for those that they will inevitably face throughout their lives, and that they develop courage of their convictions, but also the humility to question their own assumptions and learn from others." -- President Kenneth P. Ruscio

At Washington and Lee, leadership and integrity go way back-and hand in hand. Grounded in the timeless ideals of its legendary namesakes, the Washington and Lee community thrives on an ethic of honor and civility. An air of respect enables frank debate, resulting in a culture of open exchange and intellectual freedom. The revered, student-administered Honor System creates ideal conditions for an education based on integrity and trust. Exams are self-scheduled and unproctored, most buildings are open 24 hours a day, and students respect each other's personal belongings.

Washington and Lee also places high value on equipping its students to assume leadership roles in college and beyond--helping them carry forward our rich institutional legacy. Members of the faculty publish extensively on topics related to leadership and honor. Students interested in fostering their leadership skills will find countless opportunities on campus, in student organizations, student government and athletics, as well as programs and events like the Leadership Development Program and the Women's Leadership Summit. The first national college honor society to recognize leadership and extracurricular service, Omicron Delta Kappa, was founded and continues to thrive at W&L, and has spread to more than 300 other campuses.

To encourage a new generation of outstanding scholars, leaders and ethical citizens, the University recently created both the Johnson Program in Leadership and Integrity and the Mudd Center for Ethics. Funded by a $100 million gift from a W&L alumnus, the Johnson Program awards full tuition, room and board for about 10 percent of each class, endows two professorships, brings distinguished speakers to campus, and provides generous research stipends to students during the summer. The Mudd Center, established by a gift from the distinguished, award-winning journalist Roger Mudd, Class of 1950, provides a forum for dialogue, teaching and research about important ethical issues in public and professional life among students, faculty and staff. No wonder high numbers of Washington and Lee students rise to positions of prominence in their communities and around the world.

Related Stories

At a Glance Facts and Figures

472 (roughly 75%) of the student body, participates in organized sports at the intramural, club or varsity level.
95% of the student body gets involved in the quadrennial Mock Convention.
1 rule in W&L's student-run, single-sanction honor system: no lying, cheating or stealing. Period.
W&L alumni include 31 governors, 26 senators, 67 congressmen and 4 supreme court justices.

Visit, Interview, Apply See Yourself Here

Ready to learn more? Come visit us in Lexington for a campus tour and class visit, or connect with one of our admissions counselors in a city near you. We look forward to meeting you.

Visit Tours and Interviews

Step One:

Schedule your visit with a campus tour and/or info session online.

Step Two:

Call our office to schedule your interview and/or class visit (for high school seniors only). We will coordinate your interview and class visit with your already scheduled visit. (540) 458-8710.

Can't make it to Lexington?

There are various ways in which you can still connect with Washington and Lee University and the Office of Admissions:

Apply Now

Apply Quick Guide

  • Early Decision is a binding commitment; enrollment is required if you are accepted.
    • ED-1: Nov. 1
    • ED-2: Jan. 1
  • Regular Decision is for students who want to maximize options.
    • Deadline: Jan. 1
  • Johnson Scholarship (additional essay required, instructions on the W&L Writing Supplement to the Common Application.)
    • Deadline: Dec. 1
Application Materials:

Financial Aid and Scholarships

We seek to ensure that the cost of attending W&L does not prevent outstanding students from choosing to enroll. A generous need-based aid program and merit-based scholarships can make that investment more manageable than you may think. Visit Financial Aid for more information.

The Johnson Scholarship Program awards over 40 full tuition, room and board scholarships annually. Read More

Admitted students who meet financial aid deadlines and are found to have need will have their full need met with grant funds and a work-study job -- no loans.

The W&L Promise guarantees free tuition to any undergraduate student admitted to Washington and Lee with a family income below $100,000. Learn More

Net Price Calculator


Washington and Lee University provides a liberal arts education that develops students' capacity to think freely, critically, and humanely and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and civility. Graduates will be prepared for life-long learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.