Choose Sociology

“My name is Rachel and I’m a non-academic sociologist…”

If you’re in any way involved in the process of enrolling students on sociology courses you’ll be familiar with the two basic questions students – and sometimes their parents – ask:

What Is Sociology…

This is the easier of the two to answer and since you’ll probably have your own way of answering it there’s not a great deal of point to me adding my twopennyworth – although I would say that if you’re feeling a little adventurous, particularly once you’ve got your victims students safely sat in your classroom, you might like to have a bit of fun by taking the Foucault Route to exploring this question.

If you need a bit of help, however, the British Sociological Association have a free Why Study Sociology? you can use to brighten-up your classroom.

And / or cover-up that mould strain on the wall.

And What Can You Do With It?

The aforementioned Poster ends with the words:

Studying sociology…equips you with the skills for many careers”.

And while this is always good to hear if you’re planning to enter the job market, it’s a little vague.

Luckily, the BSA site has a handy link to possible “Sociologist Careers” you can use to gen-up on the kinds of occupations sociology students enter.

While I’m sure the Police, Voluntary Agencies, Social Work and Teaching are all, in their own ways, worthwhile and fulfilling careers, I’d hazard a guess they’re not likely to set the pulses of your prospective students racing. To be fair, there is also a vague section called “Research” that suggests “large organisations” might want to employ sociologists in some form of futurological, stargazing, capacity, presumably to try to predict trends in something-or-other.

And while this may sound a bit more exciting than “social work” (however worthy etc.) I’m guessing it might not translate too easily into your favoured “Welllllllllll, there are lots of…umm…careers open to sociologists…” spiel.

It’s not helped, obviously, by the fact that if said prospective students are also considering studying something like Psychology it’s a lot easier to point to “Psychologist” being a recognised job title you’d find in a wide range of businesses.

And possibly more-attractive to doubtful parents than hearing

learning about sociology is handy for subsequently teaching other people about sociology…”.

However, the key point here is the specific skills sociologists can bring to the workplace, rather than a particular type of work. Sociologically this is known as second-domain analysis: the idea someone applies knowledge and skills learnt in their first domain (sociology) to the needs and requirements of a second domain, such as an organisation or industry.

More prosaically, it’s the difference between developing a range of skills that can be applied to different types of work and having the specific skills required to do a particular job. So while some types of work clearly require specific academic skills, an increasing number require a more-general set of skills focused on a particular area. If, for example, a business involves understanding things like group behaviours, dynamics, order and change, a sociological background would be advantageous to both the organisation and the individual tasked with understanding these things.

The Embedded Sociologist

This is where the concept of embedding comes into play and the article Embedded Sociologists (2011) should familiarise you with the concept and highlight ways sociological knowledge has been applied in different organisational contexts.

As an example, looking at something like Sociology in the Tech Industry reveals a range of areas where embedded sociologists can bring their academic expertise to bear. These include:

  • Public  policy: analysing, understanding, monitoring and measuring the impact company or industry policies have on different social groups.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility: helping to develop industry and organisational policies around areas like education (such as the digital divide), social environments (the impact different corporate polices on things like free speech, harassment and bullying have on different communities) and inequality (how technological developments “alleviate or compound racial and socioeconomic inequities”).
  • Human Resources: Sociologists can play a crucial role in areas like diversity and social inclusion / exclusion within companies. The can also have an important input into developing non-discriminatory organisational cultures – understanding, for example, why a particular organisation or industry is unappealing to women, people of colour or those from a less-privileged background.
  • Training: These kinds of roles within companies cover a wide range of areas and ideas, but examples might include sociological insights into developing inclusive corporate cultures, diversity training, organisational impacts on the social environment and the like.
  • Research: While a conventional knowledge of research methods – including methodological concepts like reliability, validity and representativeness – can be useful to organisations, sociological understanding can be brought to bear on things like the impact of different media technologies and a range of social media questions: why people use different identities, online ethnography, social well-being and so forth.
  • While this list is neither exhaustive nor particularly representative, it is indicative of the kinds of careers and roles sociologists can have outside a relatively narrow range of “public service” occupations.

    And anything that helps to widen the horizons of your prospective students will hopefully encourage them to Choose Sociology…

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