Video on the Sociology of Evaluation

I made a video for my educational website, Sociology at Work. We have a new YouTube channel that will feature interviews with sociologists about how they use sociology outside academia. Our first guest is Dr Yoland Wadsworth who has been working in community services and evaluation for over four decades.

Continue reading Video on the Sociology of Evaluation

What’s the Difference Between an Economist and a Sociologist?

Question from a follower on my Tumblr:

What’s the difference between an economist and a sociologist? Are economists just sociologists who use more maths?

Hi thanks for your question. No is the short answer. Sociology was founded as a quantitative discipline, meaning we used a lot of maths for much of our history. For example, Durkheim conducted statistical analyses of suicide data from around the world in 1897. It was more during the 1970s with the advent of feminism that sociology had a methodological shift towards qualitative methods (interviews, ethnography and so on). In some parts of the world, sociology is still largely about mathematics and statistics. Economics and sociology differ in our theories, the principles and ethics of our research, and our interests. Simplifying things, economics study human behaviour as the outcome of wealth production, while sociology studies behaviour as the outcome of history, culture and other social institutions. Our topics overlap sometimes, but the way we define our key concepts, as well as the politics of our research, are often different. Sociologists are interested in social critique of power and social change. Economists want to improve the market (though not all of them agree on how this should be done).

Here’s an example. Someone (who is not an economist) posted to Science on Google+, which is a community I help to moderate. He linked to an economic model of racial segregation. If you scroll to the bottom and read my comments, I show how sociology would explain things differently. Rather than observing that racial groups like to “stick together,” sociology shows that external forces such as the law, institutional racism, and economic disadvantage make it harder for non-White groups to move out of racially segregated areas.

If you’re further interested in mathematical sociology, start by reading James Coleman’s Introduction to Mathematical Sociology, or check out the Journal of Mathematical Sociology.

Adapting Sociological Teaching and Learning for Online Environments

ImageA new sociological study finds that students who study online perceive that they have learned less in comparison to students who attend face-to-face lectures. The researchers, Kelly Bergstrand and Scott Savage, find that online students also feel they have been treated with less respect by their lecturers and they generally rate their courses more negatively. Is there an issue with the way sociology is taught specifically that does not translate well to an online environment, or is there something broader at play? Today’s post examines the skills and resources that sociology demands of students, and questions whether the training and delivery of these skills are being adequately supported by the higher education system. I also discuss the influence of larger online courses that are offered “free” to the public and how this relates to funding cuts and a push for online learning in the tertiary sector.

Continue reading Adapting Sociological Teaching and Learning for Online Environments

How Public Perceptions of Social Science Affect Funding

Sociologist Roberto Hugh Potter argues that research funding is skewed towards projects that have commercial applications. His article might help us consider why certain scientific endeavours are better supported by public funding. I’ll go on to discuss how the social and natural sciences can better engage public interest and support for our research. Continue reading How Public Perceptions of Social Science Affect Funding

Public Social Science

The British Sociological Association’s video advocates a “public social science.” This video below also argues that applied sociologists (researchers working outside academia “with the community” as they say here) should see themselves as activists. (We already do, thank you.) I like this direction and I wish more professional associations for the social sciences would engage in more proactive public science.

Social science work is still largely hidden behind paywalls. We should be publishing more public lectures online. While many sociologists blog and use social media, there is still a huge gap to fill. In Australia, it’s largely postgraduates and early career researchers who use social media to regularly communicate research. Relatively few senior academics or applied researchers engage in online public science.

First published on Science on Google+

Dire Need for Senior Social Science Advisors

On the dire need for senior social science advisors in the UK:

“The Government scrapped the post of Chief Social Science Advisor in 2010, dividing the work between two officials, who have other roles. At present there is no senior social scientific advisor, and very few of the 20 or so departmental scientific advisors are qualified social scientists with detailed knowledge of the research community and a standing with them… Without this role, no government can be fully informed about the best policies to reduce crime, ensure social mobility and cohesion, run our cities, protect our countryside, get people to take climate change seriously, and much more.”  

Sociology for What, Who, Where and How? Situating Applied Sociology in Action

Photo by mapgirl271 via Flickr. Text: The Other Sociologist

By Zuleyka Zevallos

The discipline of sociology has grappled with several overlapping issues regarding the purpose and utility of our profession beyond its intellectual pursuit. Debates about the social impact of sociology have been historically centred on three questions relevant to applied sociology – which I define here as sociology conducted outside universities for particular clients. These questions are: sociology for what?sociology for whom?; and sociology for where? In today’s post, I will discuss the who, what and where of sociology, before introducing a fourth question that is so taken-for-granted we don’t spend much time talking about it in any concrete way. That is: how do we actually do sociology outside traditional academic research? We assume sociologists can go out into the world and apply their training to different problems. But what kind of problems do we work on and how do we actually carry out the work in different places? I argue  that applied sociology is set up as the “other” of academic sociology because of the context in which we practice our craft. This stops sociologists from engaging with one another effectively, and hinders the transformational work we do separately with our respective audiences.

I seek to build upon the framework discussed in this post for a series exploring the practicalities of doing sociology outside academia. I hope that the ideas explored here and in future posts can open up dialogue about how to better address collaboration  between academic and applied sociologists.

Continue reading Sociology for What, Who, Where and How? Situating Applied Sociology in Action

Sociology of the Mundane

My Tumblr series on The Sociology of the Mundane will pick up where the wonderful Journal of Mundane Behaviour left off. This journal took its name from sociologist Wayne Brekhus, who argued that sociologists were overly concerned with deeply political issues, but that we spend little effort on the everyday matters that are often dismissed as trivial, such as humour, friendship, watching TV, and even the boring aspects of everyday sex. Brekhus writes: ‘The unmarked generally remains unnamed and unaccented even in social research.’

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Image: [Tree with text from Dr Wayne Brekhus, Sociologist] Continue reading Sociology of the Mundane

Career Q&A: Experiences as a Sociologist

Question from one of my Tumblr followers:

What have your experiences in the field of sociology been like? Where did you go to school, and what are you doing now? I appreciate any feedback you might give me; I’ve already found your blog to be super inspiring. Thank you 🙂

In answer to your questions:

What have your experiences in the field of sociology been like?

Sociology is my passion and my work experiences have been varied and wonderful! I worked as a research assistant and teacher at an Australian university while I was completing my PhD. I worked on lots of different projects and I would recommend you do the same (either as a volunteer or in a paid position) so you can work out what you are interested in. Continue reading Career Q&A: Experiences as a Sociologist

Sociology of Jay-Z: Implications of Studying Celebrities

Mike Barry via Flickr.

I feel ambivalent about this: an American sociology course on rap maverick Jay-Z is being offered at Georgetown University. This story has received a lot of press over the past few weeks. I believe this story was first reported on MTV in the USA. Michael Eric Dyson, the course creator, reports that the course has attracted four times the size of an average Georgetown course (with 140 students). I first saw this story on Ology, but it’s also been picked up by The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, The L.A. Times and on many other sites. In this post, I consider the applied sociological implications of studying courses on celebrities. I place this in broader context of the ongoing problem that sociology has in preparing graduates for workplaces outside academia.

As a sociologist who is interested in promoting the study and break-down of otherness, I can only applaud Dyson’s premise that rap, hip hop and African American culture deserve greater legitimacy by mainstream culture. He tells MTV:

Continue reading Sociology of Jay-Z: Implications of Studying Celebrities