Welcome to the inaugural edition of Working Notes, the online bulletin for Sociology At Work. This introduction outlines a brief background about the editors and it provides an overview of the papers in this first edition.
The Editorial Group welcomes you to our first edition of Working Notes, the bulletin for Sociology at Work (SAW), a not-for-profit network of sociologists interested in the application of sociology outside traditional university settings. SAW was launched in June 2009 by volunteers from Australia, the UK and Portugal. Less than one year later, we have hundreds of members from all over the world. Our aim is to support and promote the myriad career paths and activities that applied sociologists take on. The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) provided the funding for the SAW website and TASA’s Applied Sociology Thematic Group (ASTG) hosts the SAW website and produces the bulletin.
The idea behind Working Notes is to provide a platform for applied sociologists to share their work experiences, with a view to expanding recognition of what sociologists can do and enhancing how the discipline of sociology thinks about and promotes sociological practices.
The articles of this first edition of Working Notes are arranged in themes to reflect some of the varied contexts in which sociology is applied in everyday practice.
The ‘Sociology … counts’ section spotlights the use of quantitative methods on real life social problems, such as carrying out large-scale surveys to determine which services a local government might need to enhance, or developing quantitative measures in order to evaluate research and community programs.
‘Sociology … cares’ has a focus on sociologists who work in the provision of health and community services, as well as those sociologists who work to enhance the rights of patients and clients, either as advocates or through the development of social policies.
The ‘Sociology … educates’ theme covers teaching and learning issues as well as the support and policy programs affecting educational institutions at the local, national or international levels.
‘Sociology … governs’ looks to sociologists who work within government departments or agencies, as well as sociologists who work closely with decision-makers and policy analysts.
‘Sociology … organises’ features the work of sociologists who work as activists or liaisons with non-government organisations, either in the not-for-profit, trade union, or private industry sectors.
Finally, ‘Sociology … guides’ concerns the learning, training, mentorship and career management issues facing sociology students who might consider working outside traditional academic channels once they complete their degrees.
Two of our contributors use sociological methods in the area of education and programs for young people and children. Tony Alderton tells about his work as an early years childcare researcher with the Kent County Council in the UK, and Lea Campbell writes about her work addressing ‘disadvantaged students’ in Melbourne, Australia.
Our two Co-Convenors have also contributed pieces: Anthony Hogan writes about the role of sociology in policy development and Zuleyka Zevallos reflects on her path from sociology student to sociologist within a government agency.
Two further contributors discuss their roles working with government groups, within very different settings: Michael Hughes works as Director of an auditing commission that evaluates local government services in the UK; and Stephen Leyden works as a Research Officer with a Victorian Government agency in Australia. These authors discuss the rewards and difficulties they face in working to introduce sociological ideas within legal and business organisational frameworks. Similar themes arise in the contribution from Adrian Lui, who works as a Council Coordinator with a business development network in Hong Kong.
Another two contributors offer an organisational perspective from different not-for-profit sectors. Gary Pattison reflects on his work as a trade union official in the UK and his advocacy on behalf of low-paid employees. More broadly, Gary’s account demonstrates how theoretical perspectives informed by Marxism and political sociology underpin his work in promoting diversity in the workplace. Christine Walker is the Chief Executive Officer of an alliance network of health policy workers and health service providers in Melbourne, Australia. She gives an overview of her organisation’s activism that seeks to change how people with chronic illnesses are defined and treated within the medical system.
Finally, Annika Coughlin writes about her work running the Sociologists Outside Academia group within the British Sociological Association and the types of challenges faced by applied sociologists in the UK. Her observations reflect some of the issues that the ATSG has also identified amongst its Australian members. These include:
- problems in finding ongoing work
- how to best facilitate networking of non-academic sociologists across distance when they might not have much time or money to attend conferences
- how to access resources to support their research and other activities; and
- the divergent identities that applied sociologists hold, particularly when they work in non-traditional fields outside academia.
We would like to hear from our members in other parts of the world to see whether these issues also resonate, and to hear about the challenges and aspirations applied sociologists face in other contexts.
The profiles and articles suggest that several challenges confront applied sociologists in their daily work. Across a variety of sectors our writers observe that the sociological perspective is often reported to be ‘too theoretical’ or somewhat irrelevant to the applied demands of work ‘in the real world’. It seems that while the usefulness and ready application of analytical methods offered by economists and ecologists (as current examples) are well recognised within organisations, the contributions that applied sociologists can make to research, analysis or policy development are not as readily understood or accepted. Yet, as Michael Hughes notes in this issue the failure to integrate a sociological perspective into research and analysis results in poorer insights being developed on key social and political problems.
The writers in this edition argue that as applied sociologists we have important contributions to make to the development and delivery of social services, policy development and research. Several papers mention C. Wright Mills’ writing on ‘the sociological imagination’. Mills’ basic sociological question centred on whether issues arising in society are a result of individual problems, or whether these ‘troubles’ (as he called them) reflect broader social ills, such as failures in social processes that cause problems to arise in the first place. Demonstrating the relationship between social and individual problems involves the application of a series of methodological steps.
A key challenge for applied sociologists is the articulation of the steps involved in framing a ‘social problem’ so that it can be addressed or monitored in a coherent fashion. This involves making apparent the important role played by history, social construction, power relations and context in shaping how social issues are framed and understood. As applied sociologists we need to build a bridge between the way in which social problems are approached at present – often without adequate consideration to social history and context – and a sociological understanding of such ‘problems’. Making the relevance of our expertise and knowledge apparent is essential to ensuring that our contributions are useful and valued. The contributions to this edition have prompted me to wonder about what mechanisms we might employ to raise our professional profiles. We welcome your thoughts on this issue.
Behind the scenes of the Applied Sociology Thematic Group
A key TASA convention is that thematic group convenors turn over every two years. The ASTG was established by Dr Zuleyka Zevallos in 2008. Sadly, Zuleyka’s two years as Convenor passed much too quickly. All of us involved behind the scenes of the ATSG want to thank her for the outstanding contribution she has made in getting this group off the ground. Fortunately for us, Zuleyka remains actively involved as a co-convenor while the ‘new boy’ finds his feet. Zuleyka continues to drive the work behind the bulletin and the website.
Article copyright: © Anthony Hogan, Zuleyka Zevallos, Lucy Nelms & Dina Bowman 2010. Published by Sociology At Work. All rights reserved.
Article citation: Hogan, A., Z. Zevallos, L. Nelms and D. Bowman (2010) ‘Welcome to the Inaugural Edition of Working Notes,’ Working Notes, Issue 1, June, online resource: http://sociologyatwork.org/editorial-issue-1
Featured image: Banksy, There is always hope. Top photo credit: Banksy, Radicals. Both last accessed online 8 June 2010: http://www.banksy.co.uk/