The first question most people ask me when I tell them that I’m doing a PhD in sociology is ‘yeah, but what is sociology?’ or worse ‘so that’s like psych right? so you can analyse me and stuff?’. My standard answer has become “I study society, the structures and how that impacts what we as humans do”. Most people seem satisfied with that answer, or if they’re not then they stop asking questions at least. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Or course your sociology textbook will give you a pretty similar definition.
Here’s what my first sociology textbook had to say about the matter (yes I still have it, no I didn’t sell it back to the university or to some other poor student, and yes i probably only looked at it a handful of times in the whole year).
The main reason people study sociology is because it helps to understand the world around them, especially how it is changing. There are patterns to the ways we relate to each other that are difficult to identify and explain without looking at them closely over a period of time and experimenting with different possible explanations. There often appear to be processes and institutions to be studied over and above the individuals who form them, and this means you need the concepts and ways of thinking that can capture those aspects of the world around you – concepts such as ‘society’, ‘culture’, ‘modernity’, and ‘globalisation’. (Van Krieken et al 2006, p1).
My first year, first semester at uni I signed up for my first sociology course still deciding between a few choices for my second major (my first being psychology). So that semester I took a sociology, crime and criminology and philosophy. Right away I knew philosophy wasn’t for me, and while crime and criminology was interesting it didn’t keep my interest the way sociology did. Nor did psychology. Right from my very first sociology lecture I knew this was the thing I wanted to study. The lecturer stood in front of us (there were easily more than 100 people in the class) and told us that you could study literally anything sociologically. Our homework was to try and think of something you couldn’t study sociologically (she told us we wouldn’t think of anything). I still haven’t managed to find something (if you do then please comment!)
So now, after my 3 year undergraduate degree, a 4th year for my honours, a couple of years off working and doing adult things like buying a house and getting engaged I am back at the same uni I completed my undergraduate degree at and studying the thing I love.
One of the very first things we covered in that first course was the notion of the sociological imagination (Mills 1959) which essentially suggests that sociologists observe the links between their own experiences and the structures that underpin society.
My own research interests are quite varied but tend towards pop culture, for example my honours work focussed on the portrayal of LGBT characters in television programs taking into account the audiences that they were targeted towards. My PhD is focussing on how community has formed in and around Roller Derby. This blog will likely be a little more broad though. My aim here is to offer a little insight into the sociological imagination offering up my own views on things that I notice or things I read about. Some of this might be historical but it will for the most part be current.
Krieken, R. V., Habibis, D., Smith, P., Hutchins, B., Haralambos, M., & Holborn, M. (2006). Sociology: themes and perspectives (3rd ed.). Pearson Education Australia: Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.
Mills, C. W. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press: Oxford.