I often find myself wondering, what is the end goal of sociology? As an undergraduate student majoring in sociology, I am asked what the ‘point’ of sociology is more often than I would like to admit. I like studying sociology because I find that it has a positive impact on my life and shapes my thinking. It has made me more aware and empathetic towards people around me. But what real change has sociology brought?
For eons now, sociology and its theories have described ideal scenarios and pointed us towards achieving them. Sociologists uncover the problems in our society and discover solutions to overcome them. So how come, despite these sociologists predicting social issues and providing answers, the world today is far from perfect? Years of empirical research has made us aware of the inequalities and hierarchies that exist in every society. We know that disadvantaged groups suffer on the daily and are hit harder than any other group during a calamity. Why is it then, during this on-going pandemic; they have not been helped in the slightest? What is the point of all this information that has been gathered after spending huge amounts of money, years of research and other resources? Why has this research not been used effectively?
While sociologists expose the trends and problems in society, it is the job of policymakers to implement them. Those with power, i.e. the privileged elite are indifferent towards this data. They do not care or look into the research available to enforce them and those who do care; cannot and do not have the resources to bring about any significant change. Although there are instances of sociological research going beyond the academic realm; these are few and far between. Even if at all any solution is implemented, it rarely helps the lives of the people in question or the subject of the study directly (Reddy, 2020). I understand that it is not practical for every study to lead to some significant reform, however; certain areas with important breakthroughs are also unable to cause a change. For instance, after years of research; we have sufficient knowledge to know that caste inequalities and gender inequalities have negative consequences. Despite this, efforts to bring about improvements are negligible. It is apparent that the supply of sociological knowledge is far greater than the demand for it.
It almost seems as if the production of knowledge is the end goal of sociology because this knowledge is barely taken one step further and implemented. There is a very wide and clear gap between the production of such knowledge after qualitative and quantitative research and the reality (its lack of implementation). This makes justifying the need for sociology a daunting task. I wanted to study sociology because I felt that I could better understand my society and consequently bring about a change, however small. But I have come to realise that just producing knowledge isn’t enough because those with the actual powers to combat these problems are not going to read and use this knowledge that I have produced. What is the point, then of my studying this subject and spending long hours trying to draw conclusions? Two years and too many papers later, I now understand the ‘point’ of sociology.
Academic research and policymaking are two distinct roles. Policymaking is a politically charged concept and policymakers tend to pay attention to whatever benefits them. Therefore, it is unfortunately only when the academic research produced by sociologist’s suit their interests; will they make use of it. However, another practical way of social action is by living out the best version of our lives based on the knowledge we acquire (Reddy, 2020). Sociology teaches us about the groups of people around us, thus helping us individually live better lives. When more individuals do this, it can collectively lead to a large scale change.
Social change is a long term complication and an overnight improvement cannot be expected. The world is socially in a far better place today than it was centuries ago. Societies change in an unhurried manner and thus radical change can, in fact, lead to more harm than good (Reddy, 2020). Each and every fragment of research produced is crucial in some way. A single piece of research cannot lead to huge policy changes on its own, but when you connect all the research together; we are able to comprehend its purpose and utilise it better through more meaningful insights.
Sociology helps us understand the various elaborate forces that exist in societies (Reddy, 2020). It helps us form a careful pattern of such related phenomena which in turn helps us understand the strengths and weaknesses that exist in the social structure. This, in turn, helps us understand the corrective action necessary better and leads to it being more effective. Sociologists are essentially intellectuals in a non-intellectual society. Therefore, there is bound to be some resistance. Spread of sociological knowledge is hampered because of those entities and stakeholders who control the instruments of dissemination of such knowledge. Bourdieu spoke of this problem in his book ‘On Television’ published in 1998. He used the examples of the European society and the American society where the European society was more open to sociological knowledge than the latter where sociologists got far lesser television time than their European counterparts. This has a direct impact on the legitimacy of the discipline on the whole because sociologists are unable to find a receptive audience for their knowledge (Reddy, 2020).
After reading works of many sociologists; I understand that you simply cannot separate an individual from society. It is an essential part of our lives and it is sociology that tells us the how’s and why’s of society. Understanding the basic structure you operate under can drastically change the life you lead. We are always told that ‘every coin has two sides’; but as humans, we often fail to see both sides objectively. Sociology helps us view things rationally and learn the ‘other side of the story.’ It gives us the ‘power to destroy and escape our traps’ (A Sociological Point Of View Sociology Essay, 2020) when we look at the world from an outsider’s perspective through sociological imagination.
I vividly remember my first encounter with racism. As a ten-year-old girl, I couldn’t stop asking ‘why?’ Why was I on the receiving end of such terrible actions? It was only ten years later, in a sociology class that I got my answer. We are able to look at the bigger picture of what might otherwise seem a mere individual action. These two years of studying the subject has made me change my outlook and perspective on things. But the most important lesson I have understood is that there is no end to sociology. There is no end goal. There is no end to learning and there is no end to change. Because of the dynamic nature of society, there is no end to sociology. It is a constant learning process. When it comes to sociology, the ‘end’ is simply the beginning.
UKEssays. (November 2018). A Sociological Point Of View Sociology Essay. Retrieved from https://www.ukessays.com/essays/sociology/a-sociological-point-of-view-sociology-essay.php?vref=1
Reddy, S., 2020. An Open Letter: What Is The End-Goal Of Sociology?. [online] @TheSocyCinema. Available at: https://www.thesociologicalcinema.com/blog/ [Accessed 2 August 2020].