Sociology not only offers us the tools to analyse and assess the society around us but, in addition, it allows us to consider our own experiences and assumptions. Because of its wide focus on the relational dynamics within society, sociology provides the opportunity for a broad range of app roaches to understanding life, promoting inquisitiveness and innovation by integrating both “theory” and “practice”. Sociology not only studies dynamics, it is dynamic. Thus, sociology is often delivered by engaged teachers who ask their students to analyse the society around them and (re)consider their assumptions: promoting analytical thought that is creative and meaningful. The following discussion outlines the context of teaching sociology “outside” academia. It considers the benefits for both students—in terms of fostering the development of analytical skills and opportunities for achievement—and for teachers, in providing a rewarding and enriching environment. This work takes my recent experience of teaching within an enabling course as a case in point.
When I was still teaching sociology, I was often bemused when some students complained that they had too much reading to do ahead of class. We typically set two journal articles or book chapters as mandatory reading each week (and of course there were additional suggested texts). This level of reading will serve you well throughout your career.
In fact, your applied sociological work is likely to involve lots of reading and synthesis of different materials. Your output may not necessarily mean writing up this information. In all likelihood, you’ll have to provide verbal summaries and visual presentations of what you read. All that undergraduate reading will be invaluable to your career.
As a student, did you ever wonder why we do so much group work in sociology classes? This isn’t a superficial way to discuss readings – you’re learning valuable skills that will serve you well in an applied career.
Dr Dan Brook is a lecturer in sociology and politics at San Jose State University in the United States, and he is also involved with several social activism communities outside of his academic work. This includes support of social causes such as vegetarianism, anti-smoking awareness, global warming, the promotion of peace, and advocating for an increase in living wages. In this Sociology at Work Google+ Hangout I spoke with Dan about how he uses applied sociology in his social activism. We also discussed how students might get involved in similar activities as a way of practising sociology, and also as a way of thinking about their job options.
Dan argues that social activism is a good way to begin to practice sociology ahead of a professional career. He sees that community work teaches students how to network. This includes learning to work with different types of people – some of whom will agree with their ideas, others who will disagree. Social activism and volunteering also connects students to potential future co-workers and supervisors. Community work helps students interact with people using sociological ideas in an applied way.
At the heart of the various social justice issues that Dan works on, there is a common goal: “A better, fairer, kinder, more beautiful society.” He explains:
I believe not just in going for immediate and obtainable goals, but trying in a larger way to change our culture. I think that’s the special niche, perhaps, of sociologists. We realise how important culture is, and if we can make certain cultural changes – which are not easy, it takes a lot of people and it takes a lot of time – but when we make those cultural changes we find the social and political changes are much easier because we have a widespread support for it. It seems more natural then.
Read more about Dan’s career and his advice on social activism for sociology students below.
The World Bank has released a new report – Skills Not Just Diplomas, which presents a critical evaluation on the state of education in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the former Soviet Union. The report lends support for some of the goals of our applied social research network here at Sociology at Work – specifically its focus on increasing practical training in schools and universities. This includes addressing the skills that employers expect of workers which go beyond academic knowledge. Read more →