September 01, 2011

Doing Sociology

Peter_Kaufman_Bio_PicBy Peter Kaufman

When students begin studying sociology one of the first questions they always ask (or have someone ask them) is: “What do you do with sociology?”

What’s really being asked here is: What jobs can you get with a sociology degree? How will you be able to make a living as a sociologist? These questions are certainly important and most sociology departments and career resource centers can offer guidance about what professions sociology majors pursue. Another great source for information is the American Sociological Association which has numerous on-line and print documents to help you map out a sociological career path. And some of you have probably read past Everyday Sociology blogs that address this issue.

The question, “What do you do with sociology?” can also have another set of meanings: What do you do with the sociological knowledge you acquire? How do you navigate the social world with a sociological imagination? How do you take what you’ve learned or what you are learning and make it part of your everyday existence? In short, how does one do sociology?

A few years ago I began developing a relatively simple four-point model for doing sociology. Doing sociology is not a profession one pursues; it’s an approach to being in the world, and it’s a way of life for those who experience reality sociologically. You do not have to be a professional sociologist to do sociology. Doing sociology is what happens when you see things through a sociological lens, when you interpret experiences and interactions with a sociological perspective, and when you come to adopt sociology as part of your worldview.

Whether you are trying to make sense of social interactions, social phenomena, social problems or pretty much anything else, this model can offer guidance and direction. The four points for doing sociology are:

Point I: Understanding is our attempt at the most basic level to comprehend what is going on. What is the issue that interests you? How do you describe it and make sense of it? Can you identify the key points of this issue? Do you know who or what this issue affects directly and indirectly? Understanding is something we do all of the time although we usually don’t think much of it. In doing sociology, we don’t take understanding for granted; instead, we become consciously aware that we are naming, describing, and identifying something.

Point II: Reflection is the process of making connections between your own life and the issue under question. How does the issue that interests you relate to your life? Do you think it impacts you directly, indirectly, or not at all? Reflection should help you answer the ever-important question: Why should I care? So much happens in the world that seems far from our everyday reality. We hear things or witness things and think: “Whatever, that really doesn’t concern me.” But when we do sociology we try to identify the strands of connection. We attempt to reduce our degrees of separation. In short, reflection demonstrates the interdependent nature of the world in which we live.

Point III: Analysis involves moving beyond a basic comprehension and embarking on a more rigorous understanding of an issue. Through analysis we try to gain a more thorough grasp of something by using sociological ideas, concepts, and theories. When we analyze an issue we are not satisfied to just understand it at face value. We refuse to rely on common explanations such as, “that’s just the way it is,” “that’s just natural,” or “that’s just who I am.” We want to dig deeper. Analysis helps us see things from multiple angles, multiple locales, and multiple actors.

Point IV: Action occurs when we address an issue directly and attempt to achieve some form of change. Action answers the questions: What should I do about this issue? What can I do about this issue? Action can take many forms at both the individual and social level. At the individual level action may involve educating yourself further or changing your behaviors. At the social level action may entail disseminating information, joining a group, or taking political action such as writing letters, signing a petition, or participating in a social action campaign.


An important thing to keep in mind about this model is that it does not necessarily proceed in a linear fashion. In other words, you need not start with understanding and then move methodically to reflection, analysis, and then action. For example, you may tag along with some friends at a political rally and then find yourself working backwards to understand, analyze, and reflect on what this issue means to you.

imageOr maybe you’re analyzing an uncomfortable interaction you had with a co-worker and then you decide to understand it at a very basic level (i.e., a difference of opinion), reflect on why it bothered you so much, and take action to rectify the situation.

Another significant aspect of the doing sociology model is that like sociology itself, it is highly versatile. This model can (and is) used by sociological researchers,  professors, students, and even “amateur” sociologists. Once you have even the most basic sociological knowledge you can work through this model and activate your sociological imagination.

The doing sociology model ensure that sociology will not be a set of irrelevant and esoteric facts that are being temporarily stored in the deep recesses of your brain. Instead, sociology will be a tool through which you engage with the world. Try it, and see what it’s like to do sociology!


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I didn't know a lot about Sociology but this article helped me understand it a little bit more.

This article helped me understand why Sociology is important. Thank you.

These concerns are certainly important and most sociology section and job supply facilities can provide advice about what jobs sociology majors practice.

Thank you so much Mr.Peter Kaufman, your post was excellent and gives lot of information about sociology that every sociology student must when they start the course. The diagram explains greatly about it!! Thanks.

Thank you for the article Mr.Kaufman! I think I really have a better understanding of what people can do with sociology now.

# Empirical evidence: information that can be verified with the senses.
# Concept: a construct which represents some part of the world
# Variable: a concept whose value changes from case to case or person to person
# Measurement: the process of determining the value of a variable.
# Operationalization: specifying exactly how you measured the variables in a study so others can critically evaluate your research findings or replicate your work.
# Reliability (consistency): If you ask the same question from the same person, you should yield the same result.
# Validity (accuracy): The extent to which the questions asked accurately measure what they are purported to.

Honestly I am very skeptical of the importance of Sociology in general. Mainly due to the amount of professional victims and Social Justice Warriors who use their experience from the classes as a definite this is how the world works point of view. In order to fund their frauds and egos. Though I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and see just what this class has to offer.

Aaron Johnson

Getting a student loan is always scary for some people. One of the things students and parents think about, is how long it will take to get the right job that will pay enough to pay off the loan.

As someone who is obtaining a sociology degree I enjoyed this breakdown as I have question myself on what will I do with my degree post graduation and how will I make a living. The 4 point breakdown was very helpful and understanding.

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