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applied sociology - questions and answers

Earl Babbie

Question:"What is an example of applied sociology?"

Answered by Answered by Earl Babbie, Professor of Sociology and Campbell Professor
in Behavioral Sciences, Chapman University

I have, for many years, been concerned about the related problems of (1) overpopulation and (2) world hunger.  In the first instance, we have been experiencing an uncontrolled growth in population since about the time of the industrial revolution.  It took some three million years for humans to reach their first billion, around 1850.  We doubled to 2 billion by 1930, and doubling again in just 45 years.  We are now over 6 billion people on the planet and the growth rate as of 2000 would see us double again in 50 years.  More conservative estimates suggest we may only grow by half during that time, bringing us to 9 billion people on the planet.  Between now and then, most of the growth will occur within the world’s poorest countries.

     Overpopulation could be called the Mother of All Social Problems, given its consequences for poverty, war, and a host of environmental issues of pollution and resource depletion.  One such problem is world hunger.  Despite bountiful harvests and technological genius applied to this fertile planet, 8-9 million people die of hunger each year.  Only about 10% of those deaths can be attributed to famines; the other 90% result from the chronic persistent hunger associated with grinding poverty in poor countries around the world.

·         The concerns I’ve just expressed are shared by millions of concerned citizens around the world, and we are engaged in efforts to deal with those problems. All these people bring special resources to the challenge of problems such as these. My main resource is my sociology. Here are just a few specific examples of how sociology is relevant to overpopulation and hunger:

·         The Theory of Demographic Transition sheds light on the process through which uncontrolled population growth has abated in society  after society and suggests possible solutions for the future. The status of women, for example, is a key element.

·         Survey sampling techniques and other social research methods have  helped test the effectiveness of radio soap operas in reducing family  size in third world countries.

·         An analysis of the status of women in the production and distribution of  food suggests ways of supporting local solutions to hunger.

The study of social change and social movements provides models for  bringing about the necessary remedies to these problems.

In the final analysis, the solution to all social problems lies in the realm tended by sociology, even if we don’t have all the solutions yet.  Sociology is the place to look for those solutions, making sociology an eminently practical and applied undertaking for me.

Here's Dr. Babbie's brief professional note -

I teach sociology at Chapman University in Southern California. Earlier, I taught at the University of Hawaii and briefly as a visitor at the University of California in Berkeley, where I received my PhD. I began teaching in 1968 and plan to retire from active teaching at the end of 2005. During that time, I have taught a variety of courses but have focused on social science research methods, which has applied as well as academic use. In 1973, I first published a textbook entitled, Survey Research Methods, and that began a parallel career for me in textbook writing. My main textbook, The Practice of Social Research, is now in its 10th edition, and I’m told it has been the leading textbook in that field for the past 30 years. There are now a number of foreign-language editions. As a consequence, my career has turned out to focus on showing other people how to do research more than actually doing it myself, but that’s just another application of sociology.

You may reach Earl Babbie at or find him on the web at