A few months ago I wrote a post about the 5 most common questions I get asked as a psychology student. I get asked a lot of questions when I say I study psychology because everyone has heard of it.
Sociology not so much. I only get asked one question, what is sociology?
Sometimes people think sociology is about groups and psychology is about individuals which is not true because sociology is about so much more. It is about the mechanisms in and that makes society.
Today I am going to tell you what sociology is because it’s actually pretty cool.
To do that I’m going to tell you a story or two.
The world you don’t know.
So you are watching the news one evening. There is a politician talking about the ”obesity epidemic.” And as politicians do he is using terms like ”making healthier choices” and words like education, exercise and commissioned reports.
You think to yourself, while I was scrolling through Facebook I saw at least 20 articles about healthy eating that all pictured salads and another twenty about workouts with pictures of women wearing runners so clean they could not possibly ever have seen the outdoors.
You think my child came home with a note saying that biscuits are not allowed in the lunch boxes because of healthy eating initiatives.
You turn to the person next to you and you say something to the effect of “how can people not know they put their health at risk when they could just add a bit more veg to their diets” and then you go back to watching the news.
Sociologists don’t do that. Sociologists see the same media you do but ask is healthy eating a choice available to everyone? What even is healthy eating? Who’s knowledge decided what healthy eating is? And why is one kind of knowledge more valid than another?
They might also ask how people consume media like the news or Facebook articles. They might ask what effect does one’s class, gender, race have on how they perceive or are perceived or what resources are available to them in comparison to another person?
Sociology asks a lot of questions, it collects data like any other science because it wants to examine patterns in society. It takes those things like resources, culture, class divide that you are so used to seeing you don’t notice anymore and break them down, see how they work and how they might work better.
In the words of Karl Marx.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
Everything is not as it seems.
You are now a student. As a student, you don’t have a whole pile of money and you are doing your weekly shop. You turn into the bread aisle and you pick up the multigrain bread and you compare it to the white bread.
You read an article online written by a doctor the other day and it said that if you eat bread, multigrain is a healthier choice. You saw another article from a natural news site that told you white bread will give you cancer.
Since you don’t want cancer and you want to make healthier choices you choose the bread the internet told you was better even though it’s twice the price.
In fact, you make all the right choices, aren’t you a responsible, healthy person, living your best life.
Except when you get to the counter and your shopping is so expensive you realize you will be short on your rent which is due this week. Capitalism sucks.
You also have a paper that’s due this week entitled “Is healthy a personal choice: a sociological perspective.
On the bright side, you now know how to write that paper.
Don’t stop reading now, I’m getting to the point.
The point is how we live our lives is influenced by the society we live in, not just what we might choose to do.
Our society, in turn, is influenced by history, our countries position in the world, economic structure in our society and values norms and culture.
Because not everyone starts the race at the start line it is really important to know how society works so that we can make it a fairer one that works for as many people as possible.
Like any other scientific pursuit, it is also important to examine assumptions, rules of thumb and what we think we know so that we separate fact from fiction.
I started studying sociology as part of a basic adult education course in Applied Social Science in my local secondary school in 2014. I loved it for the same reason I loved psychology because I could see it in the world around me.
I took the course because I couldn’t find a job. It was during the recession you see and I lived in a place with very high youth unemployment rates. There were politicians on TV who said young people needed the motivation to get jobs and middle-aged people around me agreeing.
But to me experiencing it, it didn’t make sense and the other young unemployed (and underemployed) people around me had the same difficulty I did.
So if we weren’t lazy why couldn’t we find jobs? And why were people saying we were lazy? If people say a group are too lazy to find jobs, does that affect potential employers perception of that group?
I could see that the systems that made my society didn’t necessarily work the way everyone said they did. I knew there was more at play.
I went on to study psychology and sociology at university level and I have just finished my third year with one more to go.
I have had my ups and downs with the field I will admit but I also get to see the inner workings of my society, I see that power isn’t just exercised by authorities over us but that you and I use norms to channel it and police each other. I see that not everyone has the same opportunities and that opportunity breeds opportunity. More important than anything I see that the world can change because it has before and never before have you and I had so much access to information.
I know from sociology that information and power are partners. I know that we have a responsibility to change things rather than sitting at home watching the news and saying “the government should…..”
If you think sociology could be for you, I encourage you to do some more research into education programs.
If you are interested but don’t want to embark on a journey involving a four-year degree (I get that and that’s fine too) but you want to know more here are some resources online you can use. I have found them helpful, I hope you do too.
- Crash Course Sociology on YouTube
- The School of Life on YouTube
- Second-hand book stores sometimes have textbooks ( I bought most of mine there)
- Magazine blogs like Scientific American do some great articles like this one on Game of Thrones
If you are interested in taking it further but you don’t know if Sociology is for you consider, are you interested in society’s problems, gender studies, pop culture, how racism works (why it works) if so I think you may have found your thing.
I hope you found this post helpful. If you have questions leave them in the comments, here or on social media.
If you study or work in Sociology and think I’ve missed something, leave it in the comments too I would love if people talked about sociology more and I don’t want to be writing into the void.
Until next time,