What is a Sociologist?
Sociology is the study of how society affects people, and how people affect society. The dictionary defines sociology as "the systematic study of society and social interaction". The word “sociology” comes from the Latin word socius (companion) and the Greek word logos (speech or reason), which when put together mean “reasoned speech about companionship”.
Sociologists use a variety of methods to study society and social behaviour. They examine groups, cultures, organizations, social institutions, and processes that people develop and apply these to the real world. Most sociologists work in research organizations, colleges and universities, regional and federal government, and consulting service firms. Educators, lawmakers, administrators, and social workers use sociological research to solve social problems and formulate public policy.
What does a Sociologist do?
The sociologist Dorothy Smith defines social as being "the ongoing concerting and coordinating of individuals’ activities”. Even if there are only two people involved, there is a social interaction that entails the “ongoing concerting and coordinating of activities". Sociology uses many different methods to study an enormous amount of subject matter and to apply these studies to the real world. Sociologists learn about society as a whole by studying face-to-face interactions, group interactions, and even by studying large-scale historical events that have and are still affecting entire civilizations.
Sociologists study people's social lives, activities, behaviours, interactions, processes, and organizations within the context of larger social, political, and economic forces. They examine how social influences affect different individuals and groups, and the ways organizations and institutions affect people's lives. They also trace the origin and growth of these groups and interactions.
A society can be thought of as a group of people who live in a specific area, interact with each other, and share a certain way of life (or culture). A culture, or the way a group of people customarily do things, may include shared and habitual practices, values, and beliefs.
Societies can be very different depending on where you live. For example, let's say a couple attends a sports game together with hundreds, or thousands, of other people. They may only know each other in the crowd. However, they may experience a feeling of camaraderie and connection with the many others that are there as they cheer and boo alongside them. As they leave the sports event, they know how to behave. They move out of the way if someone needs to get by, and they say 'excuse me' if they need to get by.
However, if that same couple were in a foreign country and in a crowded sports arena, it could be a very different experience. Perhaps the norm in that foreign country (or society) is to be very demonstrative and passionate. Perhaps the hometown team losing results in anger, fighting, or even some rioting. The couple will most likely have trouble figuring out what is happening and why, and will not feel part of the crowd or even safe to be there. They will not know what to do or how to behave in that situation.
The crowd response to two similar events can be very different because each group of people has their own society, or culture, and their own way of interacting with each other. To make it even more complicated, the simple fact of being in a group of people can change people's behaviour, which means that people of the same group can exhibit different behaviours even when in the same situation.
Why do people feel and act differently in different types of social situations? Why do people of a single group show different behaviours in the exact same situation? Why do people acting very similarly not feel connected to other people showing the same behaviour? How can the experience of camaraderie or togetherness be put into words or explained? These are just some of the many, many questions that sociologists ask as they study all aspects and levels of society.
Sociology is a very broad subject. Everything in the social arena is available for study and specialization, including the following:
Sociologists can specialize in a wide range of social topics:
Racial and Ethnic Relations
Some common duties and responsibilities of sociologists:
Design research projects to test theories about social issues
Collect data through surveys, observations, interviews, and other sources
Analyze and draw conclusions from data
Prepare reports, articles, or presentations detailing their research findings
Collaborate with other sociologists or social scientists
Consult with and advise clients, policymakers, or other groups on research findings and sociological issues
Sociologists analyze society by breaking things down into four separate areas:
Micro-sociology focuses on studying human social interactions on a small scale, such as the role of women, the nature of family, and immigration. It looks at individuals and how they interact with each other and is primarily concerned with how individuals or small groups interact face-to-face. Micro-level studies examine individual thought, action, and interaction.
Micro-sociologists tend to ask more focused questions that explore the lives of smaller groups of people. One-on-one interviews, ethnographic observation, and focus groups are more commonly used in micro-sociological research. These methods of study can help to make connections between historical trends and the way people experience their everyday lives. Some micro-sociologists choose to insert themselves into the communities they study and become part of the lives of their participants. Living among the people they are studying enables the micro-sociologists to see how the participants live, how they interact, how they communicate, and how social systems affect the lives and experiences of people who live within them.
The interest in macro-sociology is as old as the discipline of sociology itself. Macro-sociology focuses on studying human social interactions and social phenomena on a large scale. Social structure is found in both large groups of people and in their interactions. Macro-level studies target social structures and the influences that organize as well as separate people into political, social or religious groups and organizations, ethnic populations, and communities. Social class is an example of social structure, as is the relationships between social class and the economy. Therefore, the study of social class and the study of the economy are examples of macro-sociology.
At the highest level, macro-sociology may cover all human society and history. It can deal with a wide range of societal issues, such as war, the suffering of Third World nations, poverty, and the environment. It can also focus on the rise and decline of civilizations, the origins and evolution of modern nation-states, social revolutions, and the origins of social, political, economic, and cultural changes.
Meso-sociology is the study of intermediate (meso) social structure, such as income, age, gender, race, ethnicity, organizations and geographical communities. This area of sociology lies between focusing on large-scale macro forces such as the economy and everyday micro human social interactions such as family dynamics. It typically involves a population size that falls between the micro- and macro-levels, such as a community or an organization. For example, meso-level areas of social control include middle-level organizations, such as prisons, mental hospitals, and rehabilitation centres. Communities also are instruments of social control, such as police forces.
Global-sociology focuses on changes in the economic, cultural, social, and political areas of society. It looks at the merging of these areas between nations, regions, communities, and even isolated places. Globalization refers to expanding capitalism to include all places around the world into one globally unified economic system.
Culturally, global-sociologists refer to a global unification of ideas, values, norms, behaviours, and ways of life. Politically, they look at the development of a global-scale government whose policies and rules nations are expected follow. These core features of globalization are propelled by technological advancement, the global merger of communication technologies, and the global distribution of media.
What is the workplace of a Sociologist like?
Sociology opens up a wide range of careers in areas such as welfare, education, social research, and government. Examples of employers are: law firms, media companies, social and market research organizations, marketing and PR firms, schools, colleges and universities, and charitable organizations.
Many people with a sociology background become professors and teachers. Others often find work in related jobs outside the sociologist profession as a guidance counselor, human resource representative, lawyer, management consultant, statistician, market research analyst, policy analyst, media planner, public relations specialist, social worker, demographer, or survey researcher.
Sociologists typically work behind a desk, researching and writing reports. They may occasionally work outside the office to meet with colleagues, conduct field research through interviews or observations, or present research results. Most sociologists work full time during regular business hours.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a Political Scientist and a Sociologist?
Political science and sociology are very closely related. There are, however, significant differences between the two disciplines.
Is a science of state and government
Studies only politically organized societies
Has a narrow field
Studies man as a political animal
Only concentrates on human relationships which are political in character
Has an approach that is political
Has its own methods of study: the historical method; the philosophical method; comparative and statistical methods
Comparatively, is an older science
Has centuries of history in its own right, from the days of Plato and Cicero
Political science focuses on political theory and government administration. Political scientists try to understand how policies and laws affect government, business, and citizens. They look back at history and also keep track of current affairs so as to predict trends. Political science includes the study of institutions of government, formal laws, political processes, and political issues, and also examines public opinion, political parties, and economics.
Is a science of society
Studies all kinds of societies, both organized and unorganized
Has a wider scope
Studies man as fundamentally a social animal
Is a general social science, which studies all kinds of forms and social relations in a general way
Has an approach that is sociological
It follows its own methods, in addition to the scientific method, in its investigation
Is a relatively young science, less than two centuries old
Sociology is the study of all aspects of society. Sociologists are focused on the interrelationship between social institutions, including government. Because group behaviour is of much importance to sociologists, their studies encompass societies’ political systems and the distribution of formal and informal power and authority within them. They seek to understand how different systems – democracy, communism, dictatorship – affect how people live their lives and how they interact with one another.
What can you do with a sociology degree?
Sociology is a wide subject, which means that students will have opportunities to choose the direction their sociology program takes, and even specialize in a specific field of interest after their first year of study.
Community and Youth Work
Community and youth development work focuses on social welfare among the young and the vulnerable, on both a local and a national level. These roles are closely involved with social politics, such as social care, education, community involvement, poverty, rehabilitation and healthcare. Examples of roles in community and youth work include: community officer, social worker, career youth worker, equality and diversity officer, and sports development officer.
Counseling and Therapy
Counselors and therapists can come from various backgrounds, such as a sociology background, even though a psychology degree is thought of as the more typical route. Counseling and therapy roles can mean working closely with a wide range of individuals – whether it be one-on-one, couples and/or groups – helping them talk, navigate, and overcome problems such as addiction, alcohol and substance abuse, family issues, psycho-social issues, eating disorders, and relationship problems. Note that a medical qualification should be considered for individuals who want to pursue a career in mental health.
For careers in primary and secondary education, a sociology degree can provide individuals who want to pursue the education route with relevant knowledge of education in society, as well as the child development process. A professional teaching qualification is also often required, usually taking one year to complete. For careers in higher education, a master’s degree is often a prerequisite, and often a PhD. Jobs can include being a lecturer, tutor, and researcher, with a focus on writing papers for publication in journals.
Potential public services jobs for sociology graduates could include roles in social and welfare services, public health services, the voluntary sector, criminal justice, probation and prison services, rehabilitation and housing services. Social researchers are also needed to track societal developments across the public service sector.
Individuals that have a degree in sociology typically have the strong analytical skills needed to make it in the business world, as well as the critical thinking skills needed to make connections and find solutions to business issues. Business careers can be found in virtually every industry - for example, marketing, statistics, research, public relations, recruitment, and human resources.
Since marketers focus on targeting messages to different sections of society, having a good knowledge of the complexity of human societies and behaviour is extremely helpful for those pursuing careers in marketing. Also, having an understanding of how to analyze different subsections within society can help create and target marketing campaigns, and identify the needs of different demographics.
Politics, Activism and Charity
Sociologists are able to question the status quo in society, in matters such as race, class and gender equality. For those that have a passion to make society better, careers choices can be within the charity sector, or within local and national politics.