Michael Hughes is the Director of Studies and Knowledge for the Audit Commission, UK, reviewing reports on local government services. He tells us why we should ‘never underestimate the value of a sociology degree in providing a foundation of skills and concepts for understanding other disciplines and their models’.
I am Director of Studies and Knowledge for the Audit Commission [www.audit-commission.gov.uk]. My teams produce the Commission’s value for money reports on local government services in England (and sometimes Wales too). We also provide support to the Commission’s internal knowledge networks and communities of practice.
I manage an interdisciplinary team. All my colleagues have postgraduate qualifications in research-based disciplines (these include natural sciences as well as social sciences). Most of the Commission’s staff are auditors or accountants. Even though they might have come from social science disciplines, they are trained to have a different approach to research. The place where we all come together, though, is in wanting to communicate complicated numerical data to non-specialists who have to make decisions on behalf of the communities Sociological theories and methods are the foundation to my work, and I try to communicate them to colleagues with non-sociological backgrounds. This is the main challenge I face as a sociologist. Sociological concepts have become more acceptable in recent years as people try to make sense of the failure of economics to provide explanations for key social and political events. Never underestimate the value of a sociology degree in providing a foundation of skills and concepts for understanding other disciplines and their models.
I graduated in sociology in 1976! My degree was firmly based in the practical use of sociological explanations; I still use basic concepts today (though with a lot of updating achieved through my membership of the British Sociological Association). My sociology training gave me both a series of alternative models to explain what I and my colleagues find, and the skills to critically appraise my own and other people’s work.
In the thirty years since I started full-time work I have taught sociology, and used sociological theories and insights to support my work as: a trade union official; a local government manager; an author of reports on public management; the director of a university department; and in my current work. A major highlight has been election to the Academy of Social Sciences. In recent years the recognition of my team’s work, by its favourable quotation in academic articles, has been a particular highlight — and one I can share with my colleagues.
Article copyright: © Michael Hughes 2010. Published by Sociology At Work. All rights reserved.
Article citation: Michael Hughes (2010) ‘Accounting for Sociology in a World of Auditors, UK,’ Working Notes, Issue 1, June, online resource: