What are Sociologists
The Role and Contributions of Sociologists
A sociologist engages in the objective study of society. He observes society and records his observations. A sociologist
also gives surveys, in similar fashion to those of a research psychologist, and analyzes the data he has collected from those surveys. The sociologist’s goal is to compile a body of knowledge on how groups relate to each other and to society as a whole.
A sociology degree can be applied to many professions, including criminal justice, environmental jobs, health agencies, advocacy groups, researching for corporations, social work, the counseling and psychology fields, nursing, adoption agencies, and the teaching profession. A graduate sociology degree is highly advised for professional sociologists.
Sociology projects vary in their subjects and participants. One interesting study called The Nun Study was begun in 1930, where a group of 180 nuns who were all in their early twenties wrote short autobiographies. All of the optimistic words, like “happy,” “contented,” etc., were gleaned from these essays. The negative words, such as “depressed” and “rigid,” were tabulated. Then the nuns were arranged into four groups, with the nuns who had written the most positive words in the top group. Each group after that reflected less positives, with the fourth group having the most negative words.
Fifty years later, the sociologists returned to the same convent to see how the nuns had fared. All of the nuns in the three lower groups had died, but all of the nuns in the top and most optimistic group were still alive!
Sociology projects, like The Nun Study, speak volumes about the value of optimism and the destructiveness of a negative attitude. It took The Nun Study to show how optimism does more for longevity than any other factor.
Sociological theories wax and wane, depending upon the prevailing thought of the day. Consider two sociologists whose ideas were accepted, then rejected, and finally brought back again to fit within current thinking:
One of the very early sociologists was Auguste Comte, whose life spanned from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s. Comte is considered to be one of the founders of the field of sociology.
Comte created the doctrine of positivism. Positivism still influences social science today in its assertion that real learning is based on experience, the senses and positive verification. Comte moved intellectual study and the study of social groups away from ambiguity and metaphysics and towards scientific observations as a basis of thought. In his day, Comte’s positivism concept was adopted as the bedrock of social research.
Later there were “anti-positive” sociologists who refuted Comte’s doctrine of positivism. However, Comte’s ideas and doctrines found their way back into modern sociological theory and method, which is extraordinary, considering that it was a school of thought developed in the early 1800s.
A more contemporary sociologist, Talcott Parsons, attempted to establish a balance between the positivist theory of Comte and the later theory of idealism. From these two traditions (positivist and idealist), Parsons developed the happy medium of voluntarism, which was a school of thought that placed the will far above intellect and emotion.
Parsons’ ideas and sociological theories were generally accepted by the profession until the 1970s and the seepage of Marxist philosophy into the grand scheme of social science. Recently, however, Parsons’ views have had a resurgence of acceptance by the profession of sociology in their positive image of society overall.
Present sociological thought views social action in a continuous evolution towards a better, more harmonious world. Whether Talcott Parsons was truly onto something in viewing society as moving towards an improved overall state remains to be seen. There are sociologists today who adhere to Parsons’ theories and those who think the opposite to be more in line with reality.
Sociologists have made so many contributions to the fields of psychology, criminology and the behavioral sciences that it is difficult to determine where one field leaves off and another begins. This is because culture, norms and deviances overlap and flow into law, religion, education and every institution in modern society.
Today’s sociologists can teach, be social workers, research and provide insight into the study of class structure, law, the internet, race, psychology and all aspects of groups relating to society.