Take sociology seriously

Samantha Durham, Opinion Editor

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Editor’s Note: Samantha Durham is a senior at UNCW studying sociology. She is the Opinion Editor for The Seahawk and enjoys concentrating her work on social issues. All opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Samantha may be found on Twitter @Durham_Sam. All suggestions and inquires may be sent via email to sld9240@uncw.edu. 

A recent New York Times article poses an interesting question: what if sociologists had as much influence as economists? It’s an important question to consider as it seems those with economics or psychology degrees can explain society better than those that actually study it directly. No slight to an economics or psychology major, but the world could stand to learn a great deal from sociologists, if people were willing to listen to what we have to say.

According to Data USA, 37,257 people were awarded degrees in sociology in 2015. All the while you have roughly 792,621 people walking away with degrees in business. Of course, we need all kinds of people to make the world go around, but sociology doesn’t get nearly the recognition it deserves. The very goal is to study and understand society in hopes to make it better, and based on the current state of affairs around the world, maybe that kind of thinking could be useful.

I chose to major in sociology because I want to make a difference in the world around me. The world has so many issues that people simply don’t know how to solve and they aren’t easy problems to solve. My argument is that if sociologists were recognized in the same way economists and other professionals were in the media, maybe we would see some serious changes.

Sociology is so much more than looking at theory and proposing ideas to change society. We focus on the root of problems, the implications of those issues and how as a whole, society suffers. I might be able to rattle off theories to you without question, but consider that those theories can be applied to the life around us. Isn’t that the point to begin with?

Drug abuse, gender roles, hate speech and so many other things can be analyzed through a sociological lens. Not to say that economists or other professionals don’t have ideas on what to do about these issues, but the whole point of sociology is to study society. Society is a beast, built of many pieces and interconnected workings. No problem is without its roots, and no solution is without its consequences.

However, we cannot simply look at social problems through one scope. We need broad ideas, people to question them and people to analyze from all realms of social science in order to bring change. Economists might have part of the answer, but partial answers of course only solve part of the problem.

According to the same New York Times article, in 1967 Senator Walter Mondale proposed a Council of Social Advisers similar to the Council of Economic Advisers. While this was clearly never established, the use of a council like this might be a good idea. While tensions across borders, races, genders and religions rise we are all left wondering: What can we do?

I argue that sociology is part of the answer. Economics plays a huge role in society and is also a large part of the study of sociology; just ask any fan of Karl Marx. However, it is not the only factor that contributes to the problems we face. Therefore, if our problems are diverse in nature, why are our problem solvers not?

Sociology looks for the foundation of a problem and rips it apart. It gets down to the nitty gritty and finds what makes society tick. The New York Times gave a great example of unemployment in their article. Unemployment is of course an economic issue and does require the attention of an economist. It also impacts individuals differently, leaving room for psychological expertise. However, as The New York Times so brilliantly stated, unemployment is more than just a job loss. Unemployment for many is a loss of an important place of human interaction: the workplace. We are valued, evaluated and socialized at work. It provides many with a sense of purpose, an ability to provide not only for themselves, but for others as well, and also is place to utilize skills we may have worked towards. Work is more than making money, it’s a social space as well.

Therefore, the loss of work not only has economic and psychological implications, but also social implications as well. Your lifestyle changes due to not having a job or your ability to provide for a family lessens, which many associate with usefulness and purpose. Now image many people having similar feelings all over the country and how society might change because of it.

Point being, sociology gets a bad reputation. It is more than theory and more than speculation. We perform research, we analyze, we assess and we consider how things could be different if we concentrated on certain issues and ways to adjust them. If you asked me about drug laws, I could tell you a lot about how we are impacting our society because of them, but not many people ask. If you asked me about representation of men and women in the media, I could tell you how it impacts society, but no one asks. So, ask me or any other sociologist. Consider what we do and bring attention to what we have to say. Maybe soon we will start to see “chief sociologists” being interviewed on the news.

I highly encourage everyone to take the Intro to Sociology class here at UNCW. It changed my life and I think this major and field has a lot to offer the world. I am not saying you have to major in it, but it truly does bring a new perspective to life that is important to making things around you different.