Doing interdisciplinary work in applied sociology
I’d like to share with you my experience of trying to engage academic sociologists on my interdisciplinary work.
Interdisciplinary research is highly valued outside academia, while academia mostly pays lip service to interdisciplinary work. Within academia, much of the the interdisciplinary “praise singing” of interdisciplinary work lies in its theorisation – what is interdisciplinary research, how should it be done, how might it theoretically change the world. Yet actual interdisciplinary work where researchers from different disciplines all work on the same end product together – that is largely being done by applied social scientists and our colleagues from other fields. I’ve worked in a couple of interdisciplinary environments and social science has been highly valued. It’s been my experience, and that of a few of my applied colleagues, that our interdisciplinary work is not similarly valued by our academic peers. How can this change?
The great German sociologist Ulrich Beck has died at the age of 70. Like many sociologists, I was influenced by his writing and also like many others, I did not always agree with his theories. Either way, Beck never failed to challenge our sociological imaginations in an esteemed international career spanning over two decades.
Elsewhere, I wrote about what Beck’s conception of public sociology might mean for applied sociologists. In How Not to Become a Museum Piece, Ulrich argues that sociology has permeated many applied fields. He finds sociological concepts and methods are being used in government, journalism, social policy and law enforcement, but they’ve been transformed so they aren’t recognisable as sociology. As Ulrich argues, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
A re-vitalised sociological imagination can and does have all kinds of impacts. – Professor Ulrich Beck
Writing for Bloomberg View, American Professor of Finance, Noah Smith, superficially reviews a sociology discussion paper exploring the social networks of economists. The original paper by sociology Professor Marion Fourcade and colleagues finds that economists are better positioned materially to both benefit from, and influence, economic policy because they work in business schools as well as in lucrative consulting firms. Smith argues that sociologists are out of touch with what the market demands are, and he concludes that we don’t earn enough as a result. In Smith’s eyes, we don’t do enough statistics. Applied sociologists earn less, in general, not because our work is arcane nor because it is not useful, but because we mostly work in low-paying -though no less important – social welfare and health policy fields.
Annual median and 90th percentile wages in selected disciplines, 199-2012. Via Marion Fourcade, Etienne Ollion, and Yann Algan.
It can be tough to know where to look for a job as an applied sociologist. Contract work can be an ideal place to start out so you can build up your resume. To this end, there are a couple of industries where you might focus your job hunt initially. Here are some tips for finding work in social research with market agencies; how to look for work with local governments; and how to maximise your chances with specialist recruitment agencies. Remember that many contract opportunities also come up through personal networks, so staying well-connected is essential!
Photo: Texas A&M University-Commerce, CC 2.0 via Flickr. Adapted by SociologyAtWork.org
Your sociology quote of the week is by Zygmunt Bauman, featured in an interview with The Guardian. Bauman reflects on the political landscape in the UK, and how our discipline needs to focus on finding applied answers to social problems. He was unhappy to note that our roles were being filled in by statisticians and philosophers. He saw that poverty and power imbalance should be addressed by sociology.
The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of.
Let’s continue to rise to the challenge, colleagues!
“The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of.” – Zygmunt Bauman .
Need some inspiration? Your sociology quote of the week comes from Pierre Bourdieu, as featured in The New York Times. In the first chapter of On Television, Bourdieu writes:
The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden. In so doing, it can help minimize the symbolic violence within social relations and, in particular, within the relations of communication.
The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden. – Pierre Bourdieu