So­ci­ol­ogy and its dis­con­tents: is the dis­ci­pline in cri­sis?

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS -

So­ci­ol­ogy, once a dis­ci­pline seen as the em­bod­i­ment of so­cial progress, is now sub­ject to fre­quent scep­ti­cism over its method­ol­ogy, pol­i­tics and ca­reer rel­e­vance. Here five so­ci­ol­o­gists of­fer their assess­ment of the chal­lenges fac­ing the sub­ject and what the fu­ture holds

So­ci­ol­ogy was once the height of aca­demic fash­ion. It seemed to em­body the spirit of so­cial progress that char­ac­terised the 1960s and 1970s and, in the UK, was par­tic­u­larly as­so­ci­ated with the “plate-glass” uni­ver­si­ties es­tab­lished dur­ing that op­ti­mistic era.

Yet in the 1980s, stu­dent num­bers plum­meted as faith in progress with­ered and so­ci­ol­ogy found it­self in the cross hairs of right-wing ac­tivists, who ac­cused it of be­ing in the van­guard of a po­lit­i­cally cor­rect or­tho­doxy on uni­ver­sity cam­puses that ex­cluded more con­ser­va­tive viewpoints and jus­ti­fied cuts to pub­lic fund­ing.

Mean­while, so­ci­ol­ogy it­self be­came less of a com­mu­nity, frag­ment­ing into a num­ber of dif­fer­ent sub­dis­ci­plines that em­brace very dif­fer­ent ap­proaches. The rise of big data raises par­tic­u­larly stark ques­tions about the rel­a­tive mer­its of quan­ti­ta­tive ver­sus qual­i­ta­tive ap­proaches.

Stu­dent num­bers re­cov­ered in the 1990s and have largely held firm since. But in an era of re­newed right-wing at­tacks, in which stu­dents are be­com­ing ever more fo­cused on their pro­fes­sional fu­tures in a highly com­pet­i­tive grad­u­ate jobs mar­ket, many in the dis­ci­pline will be view­ing the fu­ture ner­vously.

Here, five so­ci­ol­o­gists, from a range of coun­tries and ca­reer lev­els, give their views on the big­gest chal­lenges so­ci­ol­ogy cur­rently faces – and what it should do to ad­dress them.

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