Foucault and Chomsky Debate Human Nature

What is our role in social justice as applied sociologists? In this great debate from 1971, Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky disagree about the fundamental qualities of “human nature” and the key task of social science in helping humanity achieve its collective potential. Chomsky believes that the social sciences should draw up a framework for an ideal society where creativity, freedom and scientific discovery will flourish. He sees it is our task to help to put this plan into action.

Foucault argues that there is no ideal concept of social justice that can be universally applied. Instead, he sees that social scientists are tasked with critiquing social institutions and relations of power in different societies.

Interestingly, Foucault’s perspective reflects academic sociology (with an emphasis on critique of social institutions), while Chomsky’s argument is closer to applied sociology! Applied sociologists work with policy and community organisations to affect justice organisations and practices.

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Call Marx

 Image: Graffiti of Karl Marx on the phone
Call Marx

Do it!

Photo: Marco Gomes 

Benefits of Sociology to Future Careers

A useful report on social science methodologies identifies four areas of innovation that will open up employment opportunities for applied sociologists. These methods will also help us contribute towards positive social change. The relevance to our community are as follows:

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A Sociology for Women

Dorothy Smith helped to revolutionise sociological methods through feminist principles:

“A sociology for women would offer a knowledge of the social organisation & determinations of the properties & events of our directly experienced world.”

Smith helped pioneer feminist standpoint theory. She was writing at a time when sociology was dominated by positivist methods. Positivism describes the belief that sociology should mimic the scientific practices of the natural sciences. Central to this was the idea of objectivity as defined by detachment from the groups we studied.

Counter to this perspective Smith argues that sociologists needed to acknowledge that we bring our lifetime of social experiences into the field. She notes that our participants react to us in the same way: as gendered beings. While gender inequality is now central to our discipline this was not the case in the late-1980s when Smith was writing. Smith argued that sociology marginalised women’s knowledge. She advocated for qualitative research methods including interviews and ethnography that recognise and draw on women’s socialisation and their everyday experiences of domination.

A sociology for women - Dorothy Smith
A sociology for women – Dorothy Smith

Applied sociology career spotlight: NGOs

Senegal-born sociologist Moustapha Diou began his career as a researcher for UNESCO. He then took an academic position in the USA, where he worked for 24 years, but he returned to Senegal as an applied sociologist.

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The Insight of Karl Marx

The insight of Karl Marx is as useful today as it was 100 years ago." - Nouriel Roubini at the World Economic Forum
The insight of Karl Marx


“… Inequality is rising. This is not just a ‘moral’ issue but also an issue of too little consumption too little savings that is bad for global growth. It’s a bit like the Marxist idea that if profits grow too much compared to wages, there’s not going to be enough consumption, and capitalism is going to self destruct. The insight of Karl Marx is as useful today as it was 100 years ago.” – Nouriel Roubini at the World Economic Forum.

International Women’s Day: Jane Addams

Happy International Women’s Day, colleagues!

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” – Jane Addams, sociologist, was the second woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Read More

Applied Sociology Career Spotlight: Graduate Programs versus Small Business

Here are some of the benefits of joining Graduate Training Schemes versus beginning your career in small to medium-sized enterprises. Read More

Sociology of Law

Sociology student and Fullbright Scholar, Jesse Fenichel, worked as a “temp attorney” over the summers before heading to the Philippines to study the ever-growing market for outsourcing American legal work overseas. The Philippines and India are two key nations where much of the outsourced work is happening.

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Applied Sociology Career Spotlight: Politics

Angelia Schultz has a Masters in sociology and she ran in the Democratic nomination for the USA state of Aberdeen in 2014. She stood on a platform promoting stronger provision of healthcare and education. You will notice her use of the sociological perspective (Bourdieu specifically) during her campaign. Read More