In this section, we have endeavoured to answer the most commonly asked questions by those considering the discipline as their chosen career.
- What is sociology?
- How do I study sociology?
- What will I do with a sociology degree?
- Want to know more?
- Other resources available
Sociology is the study of how society is organized and how we experience life. It has been taught in British universities since the very beginning of the twentieth century, first at the London School of Economics and soon after at Liverpool University. These and other pioneering departments did groundbreaking research in major social issues such as poverty and crime.
Sociology today is one of the most popular subjects. Many sociological ideas, such as 'moral panic' and charisma, are now in everyday use. But the questions sociology asks have lost none of their challenge and excitement. Some of them are so important that we are still grappling with them in new ways.
It was the sociology of deviance that proposed the startling idea that some forms of punishment make it more likely that people will commit further offences. Once branded a criminal, they argued, it is very difficult to remake a successful life within the law. This is exactly the point made by opponents of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.
Do you wonder what fuels our apparent fixation with celebrity? Is it just gossip in a modern form? Is it that it provides endless, easily obtained content for our multiplying TV channels, newspaper pages and magazines? Could it be both? Or even something much more profound about the class system of modern Britain? You may be already thinking 'But class doesn't mean anything any more'. Are you sure? Why is the number of years you can expect to live still associated with your occupation? What about the way that your gender, religion, and ethnic background open up or close down opportunities in your life? What kinds of spiritual faith do people have in Britain today? And how far do the media affect how personal lifestyle choices are viewed by wider society?
Sociology is not just about Britain. It also deals with global issues like the environment, migration and 'globalization' itself. How do these social changes affect people at every level of their social life? Is it possible to be a true citizen of Europe or must you be British or French or Polish? What if your parents came from Trinidad, Bangladesh or Wales? Which comes first? Or are there other ways to look at identity? How important is the job that you do for your sense of self and your future? Are national governments able to ensure that most people have a job and will be supported with health and social care when they need it? Or are most government policies made with the demands of vast transnational corporations in mind?
These are vital questions. If you become a sociology student you will not be provided with quick answers. What you will discover is how to think about these issues for yourself: what are the questions behind the questions? Generations of students have found that sociology makes them look at the world in new ways and this is why so many of us who teach it feel passionately about it - and why it is still pioneering after more than a hundred years.
Visit our dedicated section on Where to Study Sociology, which features the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) site where you can search for sociology courses either as a single subject or in combination with others. There is also a link to a map of all the universities and colleges in the UK so that you can explore further.
As you can see, sociology covers a very wide range of topics, so every department offers a different variation on the subject, depending on the research and teaching interests of its staff. Most departments have their own section on the university or college's website. From these you will get a more detailed picture of the courses and the staff. In some cases you will be able to access the same information that their own students can. Try using search terms like 'catalogue of modules' or 'course units'.
University and college sites will also contain information about what qualifications or experience are needed for entry. Most sociology departments regard a wide range of subjects as a positive advantage and do not require sociology A-level or equivalent.
There is also a link to the National Union of Students (NUS) site, which provides the answer to every possible question about financing your undergraduate studies.
People who study sociology go on into a wide variety of jobs. You will gain a range of very valuable skills. You will learn how to work independently. You will learn how to find information, extract what is important from it and turn it into an argument. Most courses now include exercises in team working, so you will learn to work in collaboration with others, but also how to work effectively without close supervision. All sociology degrees teach research methods. From these you will learn how to generate new knowledge and information using a very wide range of tools from the large social survey interpreted through statistics, to in-depth interviews, to analysing the language used in media texts or situations like GP surgeries. You will learn to conduct research both with others and on your own.
Take these skills together with your insights into the workings of society and it is not surprising that a very wide range of employers see a sociology degree as highly relevant. Beyond this many people today study sociology for the personal enrichment it brings them, broadening their minds and enabling them to see their world in new and interesting ways.