What is our role in social justice as applied sociologists? In this great debate from 1971, Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky disagree about the fundamental qualities of “human nature” and the key task of social science in helping humanity achieve its collective potential. Chomsky believes that the social sciences should draw up a framework for an ideal society where creativity, freedom and scientific discovery will flourish. He sees it is our task to help to put this plan into action.
Foucault argues that there is no ideal concept of social justice that can be universally applied. Instead, he sees that social scientists are tasked with critiquing social institutions and relations of power in different societies.
Interestingly, Foucault’s perspective reflects academic sociology (with an emphasis on critique of social institutions), while Chomsky’s argument is closer to applied sociology! Applied sociologists work with policy and community organisations to affect justice organisations and practices.
I am a sociologist by trade, having completed my undergraduate work at University of Western Sydney (UWS), a PhD with the amazingly wonderful Gary Dowsett at Macquarie and then a Postdoctoral Fellow in Health Sciences at the University of Sydney.
I can see two clear aspects to my career – the part where I undertook deep sociological thinking, research and writing and the part where I have wanted to bring those ideas and other peoples’ ideas into reality through policy and social changes. I did my best deep thinking, reading and writing while employed within the academy during my doctorate and then as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Sydney, working on an ARC post-doc to examine the social aspects of hearing loss. Four years of research bliss that I think has spoilt me for life! Notably, I have done some of my best advocacy and research work outside the academy. It is this latter experience that I want to share with you in this brief paper. Read more →
I’d like to share with you my experience of trying to engage academic sociologists on my interdisciplinary work.
Interdisciplinary research is highly valued outside academia, while academia mostly pays lip service to interdisciplinary work. Within academia, much of the the interdisciplinary “praise singing” of interdisciplinary work lies in its theorisation – what is interdisciplinary research, how should it be done, how might it theoretically change the world. Yet actual interdisciplinary work where researchers from different disciplines all work on the same end product together – that is largely being done by applied social scientists and our colleagues from other fields. I’ve worked in a couple of interdisciplinary environments and social science has been highly valued. It’s been my experience, and that of a few of my applied colleagues, that our interdisciplinary work is not similarly valued by our academic peers. How can this change?
Writing for Bloomberg View, American Professor of Finance, Noah Smith, superficially reviews a sociology discussion paper exploring the social networks of economists. The original paper by sociology Professor Marion Fourcade and colleagues finds that economists are better positioned materially to both benefit from, and influence, economic policy because they work in business schools as well as in lucrative consulting firms. Smith argues that sociologists are out of touch with what the market demands are, and he concludes that we don’t earn enough as a result. In Smith’s eyes, we don’t do enough statistics. Applied sociologists earn less, in general, not because our work is arcane nor because it is not useful, but because we mostly work in low-paying -though no less important – social welfare and health policy fields.
It can be tough to know where to look for a job as an applied sociologist. Contract work can be an ideal place to start out so you can build up your resume. To this end, there are a couple of industries where you might focus your job hunt initially. Here are some tips for finding work in social research with market agencies; how to look for work with local governments; and how to maximise your chances with specialist recruitment agencies. Remember that many contract opportunities also come up through personal networks, so staying well-connected is essential!
Volunteering is an important way to build applied sociology careers. Let’s explore how giving practical talks to community groups can improve both communities and our sociology. We’ll use a short case study of Dr. Ray McDonald, Assistant Professor at Wiley College in the USA, who gave a talk to his local Lions Club. His talk focused on practical research outcomes regarding Alzheimer’s Disease. The novel aspect of his talk was to blend sociological ideas with lifestyle tips. Demonstrating the everyday utility of sociological research is central to applied sociological work. If there’s a cause you’re already involved with or interested in getting into, here are some ways that you can integrate your volunteering with your professional CV.
This series on Doing Sociology Beyond Academia focuses on the dis/connections between academia and applied sociology, with a view to breaking down the divide between these complimentary spheres of sociology. The authors discuss the production of specialised sociological research for speciﬁc interest groups, primarily in regards to different social policy contexts, and how their position as ‘other’ shapes their professional practices. Read more →