Sociology and its discontents: is the discipline in crisis?
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.