What is Practical Sociology?
In the US, it's called 'clinical sociology'. Practical sociology is the application of sociological ideas, concepts, theories and models to address applied problems or situations. These may arise in the workplace, in homes, in communities or in organisations.
Practical Sociology in the UK
In the UK you don’t come across people working in industry, business, the civil service, or pretty much anywhere outside academia or independent research organisations, who have ‘sociologist’ in their job title. Sociologists seem to all reside in universities, unlike psychologists and economists, who have colonised all kinds of settings. There just don’t seem to be any practical sociology jobs out there.
And yet most sociologists believe our subject is essential for understanding the world around us. Or to resolve contemporary problems, from gender violence to climate change. We have the concepts (like ‘cultural capital’ or ‘moral panic’) and the theories (social mobility, socialisation). But where are the practical sociology jobs? Why do so few of those ideas in the sociology journals get applied on a daily basis?
Of course, sociology graduates work in all kinds of jobs, using their knowledge to greater or lesser extent. And some do make a living as independent ‘consulting sociologists’. In the US, people have jobs as ‘clinical sociologists’, addressing problems for all sorts of organisations and corporations.
So what would it take to establish a ‘practical sociology’ in the UK and elsewhere, with sociologists employed to use sociology concepts and models to address problems in industry, business, government, education or health?
The SOA event on Practical Sociology
During October 2016, SOA ran its inaugural event to develop an agenda for practical sociology in the UK. The event addressed these pressing questions:
- What has prevented the emergence of practical sociology in the UK?
- What are the core knowledge and models that are needed to solve the problems that organisations, businesses and the public sector face?
- What kinds of skills would be needed to work as a practical sociologist?
- How would a practical sociology career pan out?
The event was a great starting point: see a report on the right hand side of this page.
We are now considering a follow-up event in 2017, which will focus on the practical skills needed to work as an applied sociologist..