Focus on Faculty Profiles

William Finlay

William Finlay
William Finlay

William Finlay, professor and department head in sociology, says he thinks of his discipline as a kind of toolkit to explain human behavior.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I got my undergraduate degree in sociology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and my M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University. I am a professor in the department of sociology at UGA and I am also department head.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I came here in 1988, after teaching at the University of Iowa for four years. I was interested in getting to know a different part of the country, and UGA had a number of sociology faculty whose work I knew and admired.

What are your favorite courses and why?

That’s like asking someone to pick a favorite child! I like all my classes, for different reasons. My Honors class in Introductory Sociology is an opportunity to let undergraduates explore how much we can understand about society by using a sociological perspective, my Sociology of Work class is a chance to discuss issues that are close to my own research interests, and my class on globalization is one I teach in study-abroad programs where I can link what we cover in class to what students see and experience around them.

What interests you about your field?

I enjoy its diversity and the sheer range of human behaviors and institutions that one can examine and explain as a sociologist. It remains as fascinating a discipline to me now as it did when I took my first undergraduate sociology class nearly 40 years ago.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

Becoming a Meigs professor, receiving an award from one of the sections of the American Sociological Association for my first book, and starting a study-abroad program in South Africa.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

For me, they’ve also gone hand in hand. My current research project is a direct outgrowth of a class I have been teaching – I often get ideas for research from teaching. And when I’m working on my research, I often think about how I would present the findings to students, which I find to be a good way of forcing myself to make the argument as clear and interesting as possible.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

A set of concepts and ideas for understanding the world around them, whether they are at home, at work or visiting unfamiliar places. I like to think of sociology as a kind of toolkit that we can use to explain human behavior and I hope that my students take some of these tools with them.

Describe your ideal student.

Intellectually curious, open to new ideas, and excited about learning.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

…Baldwin Hall, which is where I have my office and where I teach, and Ramsey, which I try to get to at least three times a week.

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

…travel, read, go to the movies. Nothing terribly exciting!

Favorite book/movie?

My favorite movie is The Godfather, which I saw a few times before I had ever been to the United States, so I think it had a profound effect on me. I like too many different books and authors to have a favorite. I generally prefer fiction to nonfiction, although I am currently reading Katherine Boo’s amazing book about life in a Mumbai slum, Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Proudest moment at UGA?

When my son graduated as a First Honors Graduate in 2005.