March 14, 2013

I am a Sociologist Because . . .

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

 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.

HatA 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:

  1. I am curious about the world in which I live
  2. I am fascinated by all things social
  3. I am intrigued about why people do the things they do
  4. I am interested in how people interact with each other
  5. I believe that society is a human invention and I want to know how, why, and who invents it
  6. I wonder how meanings are created
  7. I question who has the power to create social norms
  8. I realize that there may be an artificial and even arbitrary distinction between normal and deviant
  9. I am aware that my beliefs, attitudes, values, and actions are based on my social position and not some innate personality traits
  10. I recognize that the time period in which I live has also influenced my beliefs, attitudes, values, and actions
  11. I struggle to be mindful of the biases that may cloud my views 
  12. I am suspicious of neat and tidy explanations 
  13. I attempt to understand reality from the perspective of others 
  14. I listen to the stories that people tell about their lives
  15. I observe social practices and social processes 
  16. I collect and rely on data to support my assertions
  17. I focus on patterns and trends instead of on unique individual experiences 
  18. I ask questions, and then ask some more, instead of accepting commonly offered answers 
  19. I engage myself and those around me with inquiries about the bigger picture
  20. I try to be attentive to the interdependent web of connections that characterize our world
  21. I prefer to explain things based on structural factors rather than just pointing to individual actions 
  22. I strive to understand how our lives are impacted by forces such race, gender, sexuality, social class, ability and other such variables
  23. I am angry that inequality is increasing in a world of plenty
  24. 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
  25. I am concerned that our inability to recognize institutional forms of oppression often results in our collective denial of such oppressions
  26. 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
  27. I challenge taken-for-granted assumptions that perpetuate inequality, oppression, and injustice
  28. I refuse to accept the social order as natural, inherent, and “just the way it is”
  29. I reject the notion that the status quo is permanent, stable, and everlasting
  30. I maintain that the only thing that is permanent is the impermanence of the world in which we live
  31. I endeavor to be socially aware so that I may see things that others may not recognize
  32. I use my sociological knowledge to deflect harm not cause it
  33. I expect to transform knowledge into action and create a more just and equal world
  34. I am committed to fostering positive social change
  35. I think about sociological ideas
  36. I read sociological books
  37. I study sociological theories and concepts
  38. I write sociological essays and papers
  39. I discuss sociological themes
  40. I encourage others to embrace the sociological perspective
  41. 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. . . ”    


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Another great blog Peter.

You have totally eliminated any confusion on my part. I am not a sociologist, but then again... I know that I struggle with the biases that may cloud my views. Maybe by analyzing my own behaviors in relation to my social circles and society in general I am a Sociologist.


Not sure if I'm angry, but definitely perplexed by 23.

Thanks Peter

I love what you wrote about being a sociologist. Sociology is about asking questions and by using social science, sociologists have made various theories. I don't think Peter understood what you meant in number 23. It looks to me as if you are saying the opposite of what he is thinking. Thank you for this post. I am in school now, but I do act like a sociologist. :)

Is there any hope for a future Sociologist driven by ideology and personal bias?

Is it possible to observe injustice when what you really want to do is prevent it?

Is it possible for someone from a unprivileged group to be taken serious when researching said group?

Thanks for giving more info on how to think outside the relm of things, as we see fit to recognize issues and situations in which most of us sub consciencely take many basic everyday living arrangements for granted. Understanding sociology is alway what if,s, why not's, perhaps one must be able to view the world in many aspects rather then one mindset.

Wow, this was amazing. I've been searching to read something like this for a while.

Hi peter! thank u for this definition. I see that all what you said is very helpful to those persons who have no idea about the role of sociology in D name of the Sociologist. u have many ideas about D meaning of ToBeSociologist. this can avoid D misconception of the concept

Hey there
I'm a sociologist in iran
Liked your site and it's functional
Thank you

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