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The Study of Sociology and Related Areas in Malta: A Brief Overview

The practice of sociology in Malta is relatively recent. The first promoter of the social science who obtained an academic qualification in the field was the Rev. Canon Benjamin Tonna who studied sociology at the University of Louvain in Belgium in the late 1950s. Previous to that, the only extensive studies of aspects of Maltese society were carried out in the field of folklore which, for historical-colonial reasons to do with the representation of identity, was never institutionalised as an official discipline at University.

From then on a number of Maltese started to cultivate an interest in the field of sociology. In these early days most if not all local practitioners of the discipline were associated in some way with the Catholic Church; they saw sociology as a tool to enable the Church to understand and cope with the changes occurring in Maltese society, then characterised by sea changes in the old alignments between state, church, and the values and beliefs of the population.

One should note that around this time social anthropological research started to be carried out in Malta by 'outsiders'. In fact the very first social scientific monograph on Malta was published in 1965 by a social anthropologist, Jeremy Boissevain. It is interesting however to point out the traditional (and now largely-defunct) 'division of labour' between sociology and anthropology, which surfaced particularly in the field of the study of local religion. In this respect it is useful to quote Sant-Cassia (1993: 305)

'Whilst social anthropological research in Malta was mainly conducted by 'outsiders', sociological work was not absent and it was conducted by Maltese ... (yet) whilst both anthropologists and sociologists concentrated on religion, faith and ritual, the former (many of whom came from Protestant, agnostic or semi-agnostic backgrounds) were claiming that religion was well and thriving. By contrast sociological research in Malta (which was and still is heavily sponsored and supported by the Church) was claiming a diametrically opposed view - that secularization was upon us, that traditional religion was largely dead as Malta entered the brave new world of gesellschaft society.'

Today, sociology in Malta is a recognized and diversified field of inquiry at University and is taught under one form or another (as Social Studies, for instance) at secondary and Junior College levels. There is a thriving community of qualified sociologists working in Malta on various issues notably religion, values, tourism, media research, and social gerontology.

One should also mention Discern, the 'Institute for Research on the Signs of the Times'. Discern, which is run by and answerable to the Archdiocese of Malta, was set up by the Rev. Tonna and is currently headed by the Rev. Dr. Joe Inguanez; it organises research, publishes various materials of a sociological nature, and often invites distinguished international guest speakers to lecture on particular social issues.

The following Maltese obtained doctorates in Sociology, Social Anthropology, and related areas:

  • Mario Vassallo, 1975, D.Phil., Oxford University with a dissertation on Religion and Social Change in Malta  
  • Joseph Troisi, 1978, Ph.D., School of Economics, University of Delhi, India, with a dissertation on Religious Beliefs and Practices among the Santals 
  • Edward Zammit, 1979, D.Phil., University of Oxford, with a dissertation on Maltese Perceptions of Power, Work and Class Structure 
  • Paul Sant-Cassia, 1981, Ph.D., University of Cambridge, with a dissertation on Patterns of Politics and Kinship in a Greek Cypriot community, 1920-80.
  • Lydia Sciriha, 1986, Ph.D., University of British Colombia, Canada, with a dissertation on A Socio-Linguistic Study of Monophthongization in Maltese 
  • Ronald Sultana, 1987, D.Phil., Waikato University, Hamilton, New Zealand, with a dissertation on Schooling for Work in New Zealand: A Quantitative Study of Three High Schools
  • Charles Tabone, 1987, D.Sc.Soc., Pontificia Universitas A.S. Thoma Aquinatis in Urbe (Angelicum), Rome, with a dissertation on The Secularisation of the Family in a Changing Malta
  • Mary Joanna Darmanin, 1990, Ph.D., University of Wales, College of Cardiff (U.W.C.O.C.), with a dissertation on Sociological Perspectives on Schooling in Malta  
  • Anthony M. Abela, 1991, D.Phil., University of Oxford, with a dissertation on The Transmission of Values in European Malta  
  • Joe Fenech, 1992, Ph.D., Institute of Education, University of London, with a dissertation on Primary Schooling in Malta: An Historical and Ethnographic Study  
  • Joe Inguanez, 1992, Ph.D., Goldsmiths College, University of London, with a dissertation on Some Sociological Aspects of Tourism in Malta  
  • Godfrey Baldacchino, 1993, Ph.D., University of Warwick, U.K, with a dissertation on Labouring in Lilliput: Labour Relations and Images of Smallness in Developing Microsates  
  • Peter Mayo, 1993, Ph.D., Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, with a dissertation on Synthesising Gramsci and Freire: Possibilities for a Theory of Transformative Adult Education  
  • David E. Zammit, 1998, Ph.D., University of Durham, with a dissertation on Laws and Stories: An ethnographic study of Maltese legal representation  
  • George Cassar, 1998, Ph.D., University of Malta, with a dissertation on Prelude to the Emergence of an Organised Teaching Core: A socio-historical study of the teaching profession in Malta, 1800 - 1919  
  •  JosAnn Cutajar, 2000, Ph.D., OISE / University of Toronto, with a dissertation on Widowhood in the Island where Time Stands Still: Gender, Ethnicity and Citizenship in the Maltese Islands  
  • Mark-Anthony Falzon, 2001, Ph.D., University of Cambridge, with a dissertation on Commerce and Diaspora: Locating the business practices of Hindu Sindhis

Since their graduation, these people have proceeded with other projects in sociology and related areas, at times in areas different from those in which they had chosen for their doctoral dissertation.


Further Reading:pic 1

(The following list is far from comprehensive and is intended solely as an introduction to published works on Maltese society by sociologists and social scientists working in related areas. There are many more published sources that deal, partly or wholly, with aspects of Maltese society - notably in the fields of history, cultural history, economics, folklore, linguistics, social gerontology, and education. The Department of Sociology and the University library also hold a number of unpublished dissertations researched locally by students in the social sciences, most of which deal with local social issues. One should also note that a number of Maltese social anthropologists have published works on 'other' societies such as Indian, Greek, and Cypriot.)

  • Abela, Anthony M. 1991. Transmitting Values in European Malta. Rome: Editrice Ponteficia, Universita` Gregoriana.
  • Baldacchino, Godfrey. 2002. A nationless state? Malta, National Identity and the EU. West European Politics, Vol. 25, No. 4, pp. 191 - 206
  • Boissevain, Jeremy 1965. Saints and Fireworks: Religion and Politics in rural Malta. London: Athlone Press.
  • Boissevain, Jeremy 1969. Hal-Farrug: A village in Malta. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  • Cassar, Carmel. 1996. Witchcraft, Sorcery and the Inquisition: a study of cultural values in early modern Malta. Malta: Mireva
  • Cassar, Carmel. 2000. Society, Culture and Identity in early modern Malta. Malta: Mireva
  • Cassar, Carmel. 2002. Daughters of Eve: women, gender roles, and the impact of the Council of Trent in Catholic Malta. Malta: Mireva.
  • Dench, Geoff 1975. Maltese in London: A case-study in the erosion of ethnic consciousness. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Falzon, Mark-Anthony. 2001. Representing Danger at a Mediterranean Drydocks. Journal of Mediterranean Studies Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 355 - 374.
  • Koster, A. 1984. Prelates and Politicians in Malta: Changing power balances between Church and State in a Mediterranean fortress, 1800 - 1976. Assen: Van Gorcum.
  • Mallia-Milanes, Victor. ed. 1988. The British Colonial Experience, 1800 - 1964: the impact on Maltese Society. Malta: Mireva. 
  • Mitchell, Jon P. 1998. An Island in between: Malta, Identity and Anthropology, in South European Society and Politics, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp 142-9.
  • Mitchell, Jon P. 2001. Ambivalent Europeans: Ritual, memory, and the public sphere in Malta. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Sant-Cassia, Paul 1993. History, Anthropology, and Folklore in Malta, Journal of Mediterranean Studies, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp 291-315.
  • Sultana, Ronald G. and Baldacchino, Godfrey eds. 1994. Maltese Society: A sociological inquiry. Malta: Mireva.
  • Tabone, C. 1987. The Secularization of the Family in Changing Malta. Malta: Dominican Publication.
  • Vassallo, Mario 1979. From Lordship to Stewardship. The Hague: Mouton.


Genealogy of the Department of Sociologypic 2

At the University of Malta, sociology was first taught within the Department of Economics, which was renamed 'Department of Economics and Social Studies' in the early 1970s. The Department of Social Studies was set up in the mid-70s with the help of the Open University. Mr. David Boswell was seconded to the University of Malta by the Open University as Visiting Professor in Social Policy for three years. During this period, courses in sociology were introduced in the Faculties of Theology and of Law.

The Department of Social Studies was eventually suppressed when the Faculty of Arts was closed down, but sociology continued to be taught within the Faculty of Management Studies. During this period sociology was mainly taught as one of the principal subjects to students taking degrees in Public Administration, Management and Accountancy in that Faculty. At the same time sociology started also to be taught to students following courses in Engineering, Architecture, Education, Pharmacy, and Law. In an applied form, sociology was at the time also taught as a key area of studies in the newly-launched part-time Diploma in Applied Social Studies, offered by the Faculty of Management Studies. Within this Diploma two options were offered: 'Social Work', and 'Labour Studies'. With the re-establishment of the Faculty of Arts in 1987, the Department of Social Studies was revived, under the headship of Mario Vassallo. Between 1987 and 1992 professional courses in Social Work, which had been initiated within the Faculty of Management Studies, continued to be strengthened, and the department contributed substantially to the development of:

  • courses in social gerontology and eventually the creation of the Institute of Gerontology
  • professional courses in Social Work and Social Administration, eventually leading to the creation of the Institute for Social Welfare
  • co-ordination and running of an Action-Research Project on children attending Special Schools in Malta
  • the development of courses in Probation and the setting up of the Centre for Criminological studies through assistance received from the Fulbright Visiting Professor programme.
Concurrently, full degree courses in Sociology were launched as one of the main responsibilities of the Department of Social Studies. This department was renamed 'Department of Sociology' in the beginning of the 1990s and the responsibility for Social Work and Social Administration courses was transferred to the then newly-established Institute for Social Welfare, with Anthony M. Abela appointed as director for a three-year period. Studies in Gerontology became the responsibility of the Institute of Gerontology. The Action-Research Project was terminated in 1994.

In 1995 the University Council restructured the Institutes of Social Welfare, Gerontology, Youth Studies, Child Development, and the Centre for Criminology and integrated them into a number of University departments.

The Department of Sociology offers courses in sociology and social studies for B.A. (General & Honours), M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. It also services a number of other faculties.

Sociology currently features very prominently in B.Ed. courses provided by the Faculty of Education, which has recruited its own sociologists.

The current Head of Department is Prof. Mark-Anthony Falzon.

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© Photos by: Prof. Mark-Anthony Falzon

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