The crisis of Sociology is nothing new. We have been talking, reading and writing about it since the 70s with Gouldner and more recently with Boudon and Burawoy.
The debate in the scientific community has two main parties.
The academic purists who reject applied sociology as strongly influenced by policymakers and their interests, and so unable to generate unbiased knowledge.
On the other hand, public sociology advocates claim that the passion for social problems, and their study, has always been the legit driving force of this discipline.
So, should sociology stick to a role of social phenomena reader & interpreter or can it liaise with social actors to provide indications regarding concrete social action – just as it happens with other disciplines such as economics, psychology and law?
To address this question we should first clarify the key features of the sociology profession. What is the professional profile of sociology graduates?
As a matter of fact, in Italy, and not only, we see that sociology graduates and Ph.D. holders face major difficulties in finding meaningful job opportunities.
Surprisingly enough, employability is usually not a priority sociology scholars, yet we have decided to take this approach for our discussion.
The job opportunities for sociology graduates are particularly scarce in those countries (Spain, Greece, Lebanon, just to mention the research papers published by the Journal) where the economic situation is critical, especially for young people, welfare expenditure has been cut and investment in social research – both public and private – is limited.
In Italy, in particular, the situation is additionally affected by the fact the sociology doesn’t have a licensed professional association to protect their members and safeguard they job profiles, and no institutional role establishes the exclusive relevance for sociologists, contrary to the case of psychologists and qualified social workers. On top of this, sociology graduates have very limited access to teaching positions in high school, which is a valuable career path for graduates in social sciences and humanities.
In the private sector, the competition is even more fierce. Valuable opportunities are in HR, Communication and General Management, but sociology university curriculum programs mainly focus on sociological theory and research methodology, and minimally consider general subject like economics, finance and law.
The good news is that, once sociology graduates actually access management positions, they play extremely important roles, because of their skills in interpreting complex phenomena and in planning, managing and evaluating initiatives. They are able to adopt sociology historical concepts – such as complexity, uncertainty, personal and collective identity, fluidity – to read into social trends and act upon them. Sociology-related expertise is also deemed positively useful in “unexpected” fields, such as security public authorities.
Hence, sociology proves to be impactful, but its role in the professional world is not always explicitly appreciated. So, how to make sociology and sociologists more widely recognized outside academia? The first step might be to improve the relationship between sociology practitioners and sociology academics.
As sociologists, we pride ourselves of our ability in research and interpretation of phenomena, then it is expected that we put the maximum effort in further investigating the widespread under-employment (or over-education) and the difficulty in accessing the job market of our very own disciples. The academic community must dare to revise all sociology degrees, taking into account opportunities for differentiated learning pathways according to the different jobs a sociologist might do, reinforce technical, methodological and operational competences, and introduce soft skills such as team working, communication and problem solving.
At the same time, public sociology must be actioned in recommending policymakers the most meaningful ways of employing their fellows.
In this way, universities offering sociology programs take full responsibility for their outcomes, and reassert themselves as places not only of research and learning, but also of cultural growth and professional development for their students.
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