Photo: Marco Gomes
Photo: Marco Gomes
Dorothy Smith helped to revolutionise sociological methods through feminist principles:
“A sociology for women would offer a knowledge of the social organisation & determinations of the properties & events of our directly experienced world.”
Smith helped pioneer feminist standpoint theory. She was writing at a time when sociology was dominated by positivist methods. Positivism describes the belief that sociology should mimic the scientific practices of the natural sciences. Central to this was the idea of objectivity as defined by detachment from the groups we studied.
Counter to this perspective Smith argues that sociologists needed to acknowledge that we bring our lifetime of social experiences into the field. She notes that our participants react to us in the same way: as gendered beings. While gender inequality is now central to our discipline this was not the case in the late-1980s when Smith was writing. Smith argued that sociology marginalised women’s knowledge. She advocated for qualitative research methods including interviews and ethnography that recognise and draw on women’s socialisation and their everyday experiences of domination.
Senegal-born sociologist Moustapha Diou began his career as a researcher for UNESCO. He then took an academic position in the USA, where he worked for 24 years, but he returned to Senegal as an applied sociologist.
Sociology student and Fullbright Scholar, Jesse Fenichel, worked as a “temp attorney” over the summers before heading to the Philippines to study the ever-growing market for outsourcing American legal work overseas. The Philippines and India are two key nations where much of the outsourced work is happening.
The Californian Department of Transportation in the USA has a cultural studies team. It’s led by an anthropologist and it includes anthropologists, archaeologists and historians. They conduct research on the city’s landscape and they analyse potential architectural sites for artefacts. They are also tasked with unearthing the city’s cultural heritage.
The quote below comes from a great book with lots of useful case studies of applied sociology in action. In Public Sociology: Research, Action, and Change, Philip Nyden, Leslie Hossfeld and Gwendolyn Nyden, argue:
“In their active engagement with various publics, sociologists become more aware of emerging issues and responding to those issues in their research. This elevates the field of sociology in the eyes of the 99.99% of the world outside of our field…. Because of their direct and immediate proximity, collaborative partners often raise questions and concerns based on local knowledge that the researchers may not even know about. Making these adjustments strengthens the research by making it more relevant to the publics involved.”
Here’s a fun read by E. W. Burgess, who was writing in 1916 about the importance of social surveys as a “constructive service by departments of sociology”:
“Indeed a case might well be made for the statement that the social survey was an invention of the sociologist. In every department of sociology in the country beginners in the science have been initiated into this method of community study.”