Type of paper:Critical thinking
Discipline:Other : Applied Sociology
Format or citation style:ASA
Tell us something that (1) you learned from the material in this module, or
(2) which thanks to this material you now see in a new light.
Some of the most important lessons I have learned about sociology were taught to me by students in my Intro Sociology courses. A few semesters ago, while I was discussing the historical development of the discipline, a student pointed out that the founders of the field all lived in tumultuous times.
An obvious point, perhaps, but like many obvious points one that we often overlook. Khaldoun lived in the time of Tamerlane; Comte in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Marx, Durkheim, and Weber saw the rise of the industrial age and the birth of modern Europe. Maybe it is not too surprising that they all sought explanations for social change. But in their work, they also sought something else, a way to direct the forces shaping their social world. Knowledge, for them, was to be applied to very practical ends.
Seen in this light, it is clear that applied sociology has always been an integral part of the discipline. Khaldoun counseled rulers. Comte tried to counsel God. Marx sought to change the world. Durkheim studied suicide. Weber immersed himself in the problems of German agrarian life as well as politics and helped write the Weimar Constitution. The founders were engaged in the practice of sociology, a process that encompasses both basic and applied research — as well as sociological theory. Applied sociology is an old family tradition that runs through the heart of the discipline. And as we will see, the theory is a critical component of applied sociology.
Perhaps more than any other modern American sociologist, C. Wright Mills personifies the belief that sociology — and especially social theory — should help improve society. A brilliant social scientist and motor-cycle riding iconoclast with little patience for the sociological establishment of his day, he believed sociology should identify the structural roots of social problems and advance solutions for them. Mills called the ability to see the connections between social forces and personal biography the sociological imagination. And his work is an excellent starting point to begin thinking about applied sociological theory.
Applied Sociologist Steve Steele has posted a number of short videos on YouTube. Designed for entry-level sociology students, they nevertheless touch upon themes that are relevant to students at every level of the discipline. Here’s his take on why social theory is important . . .
Turner, Jonathan H. 1998. “Must Sociological Theory and Social Practice be So Far Apart? A Polemical Answer,” Sociological Perspectives, 41(2): 243 – 258.
Edles, Laura D. and Scott Appelrouth. 2010. Sociological Theory in the Classical Era. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Grenfell, Michael James (ed). 2012. Pierre Bourdieu: Key Concepts. New York: Routledge