What Is A Sociologist?

I bill myself as a Consumer Anthropologist: a social scientist who studies consumer culture. An equal (but not necessary always expressed) part of that job description is sociologist: someone who studies the organization of society and other institutions and what makes them work / sustains them. It is where my study of the macroforces that affect human culture fit in as well as the study of how my client organizations run / do business.

But I find that a) most anthropologists and sociologists observe a fair amount of separation with regard to their disciplines and theories and b) people know even less about sociology than they do about anthropology.

Careers in anthropology outside of academic settings have been more and more defined.  For example,   working in public sector organizations like at the CDC to understand how cultural factors impact the spread of disease, or working with the U.S. military to help them understand the cultures of the countries / communities they occupy so they can improve diplomatic relations.  Then in the private sector, especially in marketing and advertising and design using cultural research to understand how people use different products, what unmet needs they have, how they shop and the attitudes and values that impact their purchase decision behavior.

I spent some time yesterday with a class of about-to-graduate Anthropology majors talking to them about careers in Anthropology.  Then I went up a floor to visit my old sociology department and chatted with one of my favorites who is now the department chair and is eager to have me back to chat with some of his students on the same topic.   Which begged the question: “So what do sociologists do, anyway? What are the most common professions?”  The image above was on the wall in the department but didn’t really elaborate much, so thought I would do some digging.

One university website listed a few buckets:

  • Criminal Justice– In corrections, rehabilitation, law enforcement, the justice system, parole system.
  • Business and Industry– Advertising, Consumer and Market Research, Management of Non-profit organizations, Human Resources, Training and Human Development, Leadership Training.
  • Research and Planning– Governmental and regional planning departments, research firms, evaluation research, public opinion research.
  • Agencies-Social Services, Mental Health Services, Adoption, Child Care, Youth Services, Developmental Disability Services.
  • Government– Social Science Analysis, Census Bureau and other federal agencies, Administration, Policy Analysis, Personnel, Homeland Security.
  • Education– Public and Private Schools, Colleges and Universities, Administration, Alumni Relations, Placement Offices, Educational Research.
  • Advocacy– Environmental, Child Welfare, National Policies, Victims Rights, Labor Rights, Community Organization.
  • Communications– Technical Writing, Newspaper and Magazine Reporting, Public Relations.
    But another field I have seen a lot more sociologists in is entertainment:  the actors and comedians who take a hard look at how society works and turns the tables on us so we can examine our social structures, for better or worse and even call our attention to stereotypes and things that cause divisiveness and inhibit unity.  Take actors like Dan Akroyd and Robin Williams:  both known for taking on characters with distinct social contexts:  e.g.  the Coneheads, The Blues Brothers, Mork From Ork and Mrs. Doubtfire.
    It’s an interesting perspective that can be applied to many professions.  I hope this sparks some creative interest among those who are studying but confused.

2 thoughts on “What Is A Sociologist?

  1. I have a BA in Anthro too. Sadly it never did much for me. Wish I could have found those private corporate jobs out of college.

    On the other hand, I can’t ever regret my Anthro degree. It gave me the cultural sensitivity and flexibility to meet and befriend a vast array of people and eventually led me to living aboad. How much more cultural can we get than that, right?

    Kudos to you for going back and giving those talks. I’m requesting that you encourage those kids to live aboad as well. It is, in my belief, the best experience any person can have.

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