Defining Sociological Identity and Community: The Work of the Sociologists Outside Academia Group, UK

Annika CoughlinAnnika Coughlin is one of the convenors of the Sociologists Outside Academia Group, which is part of the British Sociological Association. She answers questions about the issues facing their members.

Annika Coughlin

Please tell us a little about your professional organisation.
The Sociologists Outside Academia group, is a specialist group within the British Sociological Association (BSA). It is based in the UK, and all of our communication is online. We also have sociologists in our group from other countries that, perhaps, don’t have their own sociological organisations. We were established in 2006 as a response to an article in Network (the BSA’s member newsletter) requesting more representation of sociologists outside of academia within the BSA. Since then, we have a seat on the BSA council and a 300 strong membership; some are members of other groups apart from us. Our members all in some way feel like sociologists outside academia even if they actually work in academia. This could be because they aren’t in sociology departments, are on short-term contracts, visiting lecturers or PhD students wanting a career outside academia when they graduate.

As far as you know, where do most non-academic sociologists find work in your country?
Our membership includes retired people, freelance sociologists/researchers, those who work in local and national government and many other areas. We haven’t collated a full database of member’s jobs, but over time we have built up a picture of what our members do. We have a lot of long-term sick and disabled members who can’t work in full-time jobs, or indeed aren’t offered jobs even if they can work. I don’t know where they find work. I send round jobs I think would be of interest to them that I come across.

What is the state of applied sociology in your country?
The BSA has a good study group culture. Our members are aware of this. Conferences tend to be a bit pricey for those who don’t have their workplace to pay for it, but some members pay for it out of their own pocket as they like to keep involved in the academic sociological world. We try to facilitate networking within our group so that if someone wanted to collaborate on a paper for example, they can find someone with the same interests. I am unable to comment on the state of applied sociology in the whole country, but I think most people are unaware of what sociology is.

Thinking more broadly outside your group – do you have a sense that there are many other non-academic sociologists out there who may not belong to your professional organisation? If so, why do you think that is?
Yes. But it all depends if they define themselves as a sociologists. My peers who did a sociology degree with me don’t actually define themselves as sociologists, whereas some of our members who have a degree in sociology from many years ago and who don’t work in sociology as it were, still define themselves as sociologists. It is a state of mind and a way of thinking rather than a discipline to some extent. ‘Thinking sociologically’ is what unites us.

Is the work of applied sociologists well regarded by your academic colleagues or do academics know little about the applied work of your members? Why do think this is?
I don’t think people are too aware of sociologists outside academia if they have a fixed view of what a sociologist is (a lecturer or researcher). But I don’t know for sure what academics think of applied sociologists. This is something we could research.

Do you think that there are some workplaces that might be better represented by applied sociologists, such as in government, the not-for-profit sector, business, and so on?

I don’t know. I think there are sociologists lurking everywhere!

What do you think is the biggest issue (or issues) facing applied sociologists in your country? How might sociology as a discipline begin addressing this issue?
The only thing I can think of is the problem, due to licensing and copyright regulations, of accessing electronic journals. Many members are stunted in their ability to be independent researchers and scholars as they can’t get access to the latest materials. Our group is keen to raise awareness of this issue and also to raise the status of sociologists outside academia as a whole. I don’t know what the discipline can do. But I suppose it can offer ideas on careers out there and why sociology is so good at creating critical thinkers and use the case studies you are collecting to illustrate how we use sociology in our everyday thinking.

Sociologists Outside Academia Group website:

SAW logoArticle copyright: © Annika Coughlin 2010. Published by Sociology At Work. All rights reserved.

Article citation: Coughlin, A. (2010) ‘Defining Sociological Identity and Community: The Work of the Sociologists Outside Academia Group,’ Working Notes, Issue 1, June, online resource:

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