The promise of public sociology


Think of the era we are in. Do you some­times feel a sense of un­cer­tainty and dis­cord? It is un­der­stand­able if you do. How many of you worry about how you will pay back your stu­dent loans in a time of per­va­sive wage stag­na­tion and elu­sive mid­dle class em­ploy­ment? We are more cog­nizant these days of mass shoot­ings and gun vi­o­lence; it gives us fur­ther pause when we re­al­ize that the like­li­hood of gun vi­o­lence is far greater in the US than in other mod­ern na­tions. How do you feel about the state of race re­la­tions in a time of mass in­car­cer­a­tion and em­bold­ened white na­tion­al­ism? What crosses your mind when pow­er­ful men, from the pres­i­dent to Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­ers, en­gage in sex­ual as­sault and/​or ha­rass­ment? I would think such thoughts leave us with sad­ness, anger, and some­times even de­spair.

Hav­ing said that, we may also look on in won­der and awe at the de­ter­mi­na­tion and re­silience of the hu­man spirit, and ad­mire how changes to so­cial in­sti­tu­tions can in­deed pos­i­tively trans­form the lives of many. Just over a half cen­tury ago our na­tion held on to a re­gion­ally-based sys­tem of racial apartheid (i.e. Jim Crow seg­re­ga­tion) and the op­por­tu­ni­ties for women to live in­de­pen­dent lives were clearly blunted when com­pared to to­day. How do you feel know­ing that you can no longer be kicked off of your health in­sur­ance plan due to a pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tion? I would think such changes give us hope that things can get bet­ter.

Of course, this is what hu­mans do: we col­lec­tively cre­ate these so­cial forces that en­able and con­strain us. We de­velop ideas and they be­come cod­i­fied into cus­toms, laws, and so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions; some­times these forces ap­pear as though they are cre­ated by an im­mutable force of na­ture and at other times we watch them col­lapse like a house of cards to see new sys­tems come into be­ing. This is a so­cial fact and it is ex­actly what the dis­ci­pline of so­ci­ol­ogy stud­ies—those in­sti­tu­tions and cul­tural sys­tems that cre­ate pat­tern so­cial re­la­tions and con­sti­tute our iden­ti­ties.

You would be mis­taken, how­ever, to see so­ci­ol­ogy as only an aca­d­e­mic method to bet­ter un­der­stand the hu­man con­di­tion. It is more. It is through so­ci­ol­ogy that we can both study the so­cial world and en­gage it—and with so­ci­ol­ogy we can take on the ma­jor so­cial is­sues of our time. This is what the great 20-cen­tury so­ci­ol­o­gist C. Wright Mills dubbed the “promise” of so­ci­ol­ogy. To­day, it is what we in the dis­ci­pline call “pub­lic so­ci­ol­ogy.” The prac­tice of pub­lic so­ci­ol­ogy is to take the dis­ci­pli­nary skills of so­ci­ol­ogy to the pub­lic for the ben­e­fit of the greater good. Pub­lic so­ci­ol­ogy is about shar­ing im­por­tant re­search to cit­i­zens that could trans­form their lives; it is about us­ing so­ci­ol­ogy to cre­ate so­cial and pub­lic pol­icy; and it is about show­ing how so­ci­ol­ogy can be used in non­profit and pri­vate en­ter­prise. This is ex­actly what the so­ci­ol­o­gist Matthew Desmond did. He stud­ied the low-in­come rental mar­ket where he found evic­tions are now com­mon. He then wrote the Pulitzer Prize win­ning book Evicted, cre­ated a non­profit called just­shel­ to help low-in­come renters gain ac­cess to so­cial and le­gal ser­vices, and now he writes for ma­jor me­dia out­lets and tours the na­tion talk­ing about the evic­tion cri­sis. Desmond has met with politi­cians and has in­no­v­a­tive ideas on how to re­duce both evic­tion and poverty. Does­n’t that sound like ap­peal­ing work? This is what so­ci­ol­ogy can do, and it is you who could be the next one to de­velop a non­profit or busi­ness to solve a ma­jor so­cial prob­lem.

If you share these con­cerns and har­bor such hopes, you should come ma­jor in so­ci­ol­ogy. Here at AC, you will find a newly de­signed cur­ricu­lum that is built around the tenets of pub­lic so­ci­ol­ogy. Our goal is to pro­vide you with the skills that will pre­pare you for both pro­fes­sional work and grad­u­ate school ed­u­ca­tion—so that you can help make a dif­fer­ence in the so­cial world. Please come visit us and learn more.


Pro­fes­sor Farough is a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at As­sump­tion Col­lege. He is a staff writer for Le Provo­ca­teur.


By : Professor Farough (Sociology, Assumption College)
Date : November 17, 2017
Source : Le Provocateur  (

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