I am a Sociologist Because . . .
What makes you a sociologist? Is it a degree? A title? A job? Are there certain books you need to read? Is there a test you need to pass? Must you freely use jargon and esoteric language? Do you need access to a password or a secret handshake? Despite what you may think or what you may have learned, I believe that being a sociologist requires none of these things.
A sociologist is someone who thinks and acts like a sociologist. I realize that is not a very helpful definition because it uses the word to describe itself. So what does it mean to think and to act like a sociologist? What are the orientations, perspectives and behaviors of one who claims this identity? To begin answering these questions I started generating a list of what I believe are the defining features of a sociologist.
Sociology has produced some insightful lists over the years especially regarding oppression and inequality: Peggy McIntosh’s white privilege, Steven Schacht’s male privilege, Jewell Wood’s black male privilege, the upper-class privilege checklist and the heterosexual privilege checklist.
In addition to these there are other sociological lists such as the core concepts in sociology, 37 moral imperatives of aspiring sociologists, most cited works in sociology, the top-selling sociology books, the top fifty sociologists on Twitter, and the fifty best sociology movies of all time.
To this list of lists I add one more: the list of what it means to be a sociologist. Beginning with the prompt: “I am a sociologist because. . . .” here is what I came up with:
- I am curious about the world in which I live
- I am fascinated by all things social
- I am intrigued about why people do the things they do
- I am interested in how people interact with each other
- I believe that society is a human invention and I want to know how, why, and who invents it
- I wonder how meanings are created
- I question who has the power to create social norms
- I realize that there may be an artificial and even arbitrary distinction between normal and deviant
- I am aware that my beliefs, attitudes, values, and actions are based on my social position and not some innate personality traits
- I recognize that the time period in which I live has also influenced my beliefs, attitudes, values, and actions
- I struggle to be mindful of the biases that may cloud my views
- I am suspicious of neat and tidy explanations
- I attempt to understand reality from the perspective of others
- I listen to the stories that people tell about their lives
- I observe social practices and social processes
- I collect and rely on data to support my assertions
- I focus on patterns and trends instead of on unique individual experiences
- I ask questions, and then ask some more, instead of accepting commonly offered answers
- I engage myself and those around me with inquiries about the bigger picture
- I try to be attentive to the interdependent web of connections that characterize our world
- I prefer to explain things based on structural factors rather than just pointing to individual actions
- I strive to understand how our lives are impacted by forces such race, gender, sexuality, social class, ability and other such variables
- I am angry that inequality is increasing in a world of plenty
- I see examples of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of inequality in the fabric of our social institutions such as the media, education, sports, health care, religion, and politics
- I am concerned that our inability to recognize institutional forms of oppression often results in our collective denial of such oppressions
- I do not stand by silently when I hear others make comments or jokes that are sexist, racist, homophobic or reflect other forms of inequality
- I challenge taken-for-granted assumptions that perpetuate inequality, oppression, and injustice
- I refuse to accept the social order as natural, inherent, and “just the way it is”
- I reject the notion that the status quo is permanent, stable, and everlasting
- I maintain that the only thing that is permanent is the impermanence of the world in which we live
- I endeavor to be socially aware so that I may see things that others may not recognize
- I use my sociological knowledge to deflect harm not cause it
- I expect to transform knowledge into action and create a more just and equal world
- I am committed to fostering positive social change
- I think about sociological ideas
- I read sociological books
- I study sociological theories and concepts
- I write sociological essays and papers
- I discuss sociological themes
- I encourage others to embrace the sociological perspective
- I act like a sociologist by engaging in the behaviors on this list
So tell me: Are you a sociologist? Do you see any things here to which you can relate? Are there things that you do as a sociologist that are missing from this list? If so, feel free to suggest what they might be. This list is a work-in-progress. I expect it will generate discussion and even debate about what it means to be a sociologist.
My hope is that as others consider this list not only will the list grow but so too will the number of people who recognize the importance of identifying as a sociologist. I don’t expect we’ll take over the world anytime soon but it wouldn’t hurt if more people proudly proclaimed: “I am a sociologist because. . . ”