September 22, 2015

Because I’m a Sociologist....

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

What happens to you when you study sociology? Do you see the world differently? Do you find yourself  analyzing and interpreting things that you previously took for granted? Do you say things that might have surprised your pre-sociological self? Do people respond to you, or even question you, in ways that they never used to before?  Do you wonder how you could have made it to this point without sociology in your life?

Two years ago I wrote a post titled "I’m a Sociologist Because . . .," in which I made a list of 41 reasons why I consider myself a sociologist. At the beginning of this semester, I shared that post with students in my Senior Seminar in Sociology class as part of a reflective exercise about their sociological journey in college. I then asked them to flip the prompt around and consider how their lives have changed since they began studying sociology. Starting with the phrase, Because I’m a sociologist . . ., the students each wrote 5-10 responses highlighting the ways that sociology has impacted their everyday lives.

  Class photo

When we combined all of the students’ lists, we had long list of responses. We then collectively reviewed the responses and combined the ones that we deemed to be pretty much the same. So what effect does sociology have on students who have spent their undergraduate years studying it? Here’s what a small sample of college seniors had to say:

  1. I think deeper when being asked a question
  2. I have enjoyed reading more about how society works and the issues that exist
  3. I am more compassionate, empathetic, and respectful toward others
  4. I have a more open mind, making me more aware of myself and my surroundings
  5. I have the constant need to study and analyze my social surroundings
  6. I am able to analyze different life situations and develop well thought out assumptions
  7. I try to think before I speak
  8. I question the societal norms
  9. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the “why” of every situation
  10. I apply sociological theories to my everyday life
  11. I try to listen to more than just the spoken words
  12. I try to let it begin with me
  13. I often get lost in thought as I try to be mindful of the biases that shape my perceptions
  14. I am mindful of how my behavior may be perceived 
  15. I think back to my K-12 education and question all that I was taught to accept as truth
  16. I question the power structure in my existence
  17. I criticize and question society
  18. I do not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, heterophobia, xenophobia, etc., and I find it easier to confront someone acting like this
  19. I realize that there are endless possibilities
  20. I cannot look at something and accept it for what it is
  21. I have a stronger desire to make the world a better place, particularly in my community
  22. I feel it is a duty to change society 
  23. I understand my privilege, and recognize how I have less privilege than others
  24. I find the need to change the way that my younger relatives are learning
  25. I have the ability to recognize the beauty and potential in the most broken individuals and situations
  26. I struggle to understand or accept certain behaviors
  27. I understand people and their rationale 
  28. I realize that every person has a story and different experiences than myself
  29. I find myself thinking about the relationships between people more often
  30. I have gained a deeper understanding of my friends and family and our relationships have become stronger
  31. I can influence others to think more critically about their surroundings
  32. I want others to learn what I have learned from sociology and apply it to their lives
  33. I love to help others grow and learn
  34. I became closer to those who are just as open-minded as I am, and I became distant with those who are close-minded
  35. I can help make others understand to not be so quick to judge others
  36. People at work look to me for answers when the deeper social questions arise
  37. I find myself enjoying a friendly conversation one second, to giving a speech on the origins and effects of our actions/words the next second
  38. I can have long and thought-out conversations with people about problems in today’s society
  39. It has become difficult to network with individuals who turn a blind eye to the major issues affecting our society
  40. I enjoy the company of other sociologists because they help stimulate my thinking
  41. I lost a few associates
  42. People find me annoying because I expose things they neglect to see about what’s  going on in society
  43. I am the ultimate buzz kill
  44. I complain. A LOT. (But it's only because I care)
  45. I incorporate thought provoking ideas into my artwork.
  46. I tend to choose sociology classes as electives whenever I have the chance
  47. I can no longer laugh off offensive and ignorant comments
  48. I cannot watch television or movies without analyzing and critiquing them
  49. I have to watch shows that show positive portrayals of people of color
  50. I don't watch the news  
  51. I believe that more Marxist policies should be used in the United States
  52. I find pleasure in buying at small stores rather than big department stores
  53. I consider myself to be a faux-science major
  54. I have a whole range of jobs to choose from in the future due to the broadness of sociology
  55. I might end up teaching at one point in my life
  56. In the long run, I will regret my choice of study financially, but will be satisfied nonetheless
  57. I constantly have to deal with "Your major is easy," "Why don't you study something real?" and "What kind of job are YOU going to get?"
  58. I will have a career in which I will make positive change in people’s lives

As with my original list of why I consider myself a sociologist, this list is not in any way meant to be exhaustive. It is not even altogether consistent. As you might have noticed, there are a few minor contradictions to be found on the students’ responses. Overall, however, there are some general sentiments or themes that were expressed somewhat consistently among most students. There is no denying that once students finish an undergraduate course of study in sociology, they come to see the world, and themselves, differently. Although none of these students invoked the typical catchphrase of the sociological imagination, this mindset is certainly what they were alluding to in their responses.  

As someone who regularly teaches the bookend required courses of Introduction to Sociology and Senior Seminar, I find this list to be a pretty accurate representation of what students generally say is the result of studying sociology. I imagine some professors might want to see responses that speak to the learning of skills such as writing, speaking, researching, and applying theories; however, I find it understandable that most students focused on their attitudes, beliefs, and worldviews. But as I’ve said, this list is in no way complete. There is plenty of room for more responses. So what do you think? What effect has studying sociology had on you?

The following students contributed to this post: Jonathan Camacho, Paul Choi, Nearlyse Dandas, Ethan Fogg, Toni A. Lee-Jones, Rich Ruby, Kelsey Ryan, Edyaline Tejeda, Jennifer Varon, Dani White

Comments

I strongly agree because I am a sociologist too. Thank you, Peter!!!

Great post! What a terrific way to teach students to be reflective about their whole experience and to think about the broader purpose of their education. Inspiring.

I like to study more and more about societal issues and social psychology.

This is great and I will use this list with my current 'Intro" students.

I love being a sociologist and using the analytical skills grounded in sociology.

I share the same views and opinions with the great majority of your students. I am close to transferring to a four year institution to pursue a Sociology degree. I am literally counting the days until I fully start thinking and writing Sociologically. Thank you again for your assistance with my career project from LaGuandia Community College.

I totally agree with a lot of things on the list. Especially about thinking deeper when asked a question. I try to have an open mind and look at things differently. When I use to see people on the street asking for money I always wondered why they didn't work. I never thought about what actually got them to that point. If you are homeless and don't have a physical address a lot of to limes you won't get hired. As a Social Worker my daughter always uses sociology in her line. I admire how she's not quick to judge. I hope to continue to think with an open mind and have a lot more empathy.

I strongly believe because as an undergraduate I started to think deeply and applying it to my daily activities ,sociology has change and reshape my mode of behaviour.

Great article. Yes, there are endless opportunities and we should do the best to help the world be a better place. An NGO in Bangalore provides funds and grants to other NGOs and individuals contributing their lives for social issues. Visit them at http://www.ashirvadam.com/

Sociology is a great feild. Bevause it everyday life. And your able to communicate in so many diffrent way and figure certain things out as well

thank you

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