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applied sociology & sociological practice: q & a

Question:"To whom is applied sociology important? The Why, What, How, Where and When of Applied Sociology"

Answered by Jeanne Ballantine, Applied Sociologist,  Wright State University

“Yes Mom, I can get a job!”  This is the response that parents want to hear when they ask the question, “What can you DO with a sociology degree, dear?” Convincing mom and dad may take examples of actual jobs, pointing out the skills and knowledge one learns to get those jobs.

Why study applied sociology?  Applied sociology meets the needs of three constituencies: students who want an interesting and fulfilling career; parents who want to know their offspring can support themselves and be happy; and employers who want results!

Most funded organizations or agencies must do research. Some are required by their funding source to provide evaluation data on success of programs. Others need information to present when applying for program funding. And sometimes an organization wishes to determine the needs of its clients. All of these, and many other opportunities, provide jobs for applied sociologists. In the following paragraphs we consider the what, how, where and when of applied sociology.

What do applied sociologists do?  Let’s look at some examples: Karen works with a race mediation team in a large midwestern city; the team facilitates group interactions to head off ethnic tensions that could erupt into larger problems. This may mean working with neighborhood groups or talking with police and officials about potential problems. Her specialties in college were applied sociology, group dynamics and ethnic relations; what better training for her work.

Jay interviews teens about their needs and recommends programs to leaders in his community. His area of specialization in sociology was juvenile delinquency, and he did an internship with a teen program, but his applied training required him to do evaluation studies and program planning.          

Jamie works for a private consulting firm. She was contracted by the state to evaluate the services available to seniors and recommend where money should be spent. With her courses in applied sociology and gerontology, and her internship in a long-term care facility, she had the background knowledge and experience to do the job.

Ken works for the U.S. Department of Education. His job is to evaluate the statistical data from states to determine where funding is needed and at what levels of the education system. To do this he uses his methodological skills and knowledge of schools gained from his sociology of education background.

These are only four examples of applied sociologists at work, most of them recent college graduates.

How do we prepare to do applied sociology?          To prepare for positions in applied sociology, applied sociology courses and programs provide students with the theoretical, methodological, substantive area, and people skills to be successful in the marketplace.

Let’s compare the student graduating from a traditional sociology program with one trained in applied sociology. The traditional program teaches the student theory and methods and substantive areas, but not what to DO with the knowledge. Applied sociology covers much of the same background material, but applies that knowledge to work in organizational settings. Thus, a traditional student may learn statistical analysis, but the applied student learns how to USE that knowledge in an organizational setting, how to work with clients to understand and solve their problems, and how to do research to answer their questions. Thus, the student trained in applied sociology has learned skills needed by most employers.

Click here to move to the second page of Dr. Ballantine’s article…