Hey, my name is Tyler, I’m a third year at the University of Chicago and I originally chose to study sociology because I was fascinated by cities. I wanted to know why they were shaped the way they were shaped, what makes neighborhoods unique, how their form influences how people use them. Sociology gave me the tools to answer these questions and that was really rewarding.
However going through the program I’ve kind of become drawn to sociology as a field. Now, I had a professor who once told me that sociology is the intersection of biography and history and I think that’s a great way to explain it. Personally, I kind of like to think of it as a history of the eternal which sounds kind of stupid and vague, but I’ll explain, and a history of the present.
So, the history of the eternal refers to all the great social theorists like Marx, Durkheim, and Foucault who attempt to explain the grand mechanisms driving human civilization now this stuff is just fascinating to read you know it will keep you up all night, it’s really dense, it’s hard to explain to your professor, but you know this is the stuff that great authors include in their stuff and that kind of thing.
So it’s just fun to know, now history of the present is where sociology becomes a little more useful, so as a discipline sociology kind of employs any social sciences tool you can think of: statistical analysis, historical analysis, surveys, ethnographies, and with these tools attacks areas you might think are reserved for economists, political scientists, anthropologists, and even writers.
Now, sociology of English is kind of a strange field, but an interesting one you should check out if you have time. But anyways, so to give you an example of how these tools can be combined: Cabrini-Green was a really famous housing project in Chicago and it was just knocked down. It failed, it was dangerous for people living in it, for people walking by it, and it was held up as an example of why public housing should be avoided in large cities, however there have been successful public housing projects before in the US and abroad.
So the question a sociologist might answer is: What differentiates a successful public housing unit from a failed one. Now, an economist might look at how income is distributed within a certain neighborhood and a certain unit. A political scientist may look at how civic engagement occurs within the building. An anthropologist might try and figure out the cultural morays or some other crazy thing governing a society within a building.
But with sociology you’ll get an answer that combines all these areas and will present a complete system for understanding what’s going on and in this way sociology offers a great tool for understanding public policy and what we can do to make the world work better for everyone. A little idealistic but really that’s one of the great things about sociology is. It’s a study of the present.